Monday, March 10, 2008

Chemistry Broke My Window

I have a broken interior pane in my living room, which, after the typical runaround with the warranty department ("Are you sure a bird didn't fly into it?" "INTERIOR PANE, jackass." "Could a baseball have hit it?" "Not unless the Cubs are having secret spring training in my living room, no."), Andersen finally sent me out the window dudes this morning to take a look and decide if it's a warranty-covered problem.

Well, it is, and the mystery of how the interior pane broke has been solved: Chemistry did it.

According to the window dudes, in the late 80s and early 90s, Andersen filled the windows with argon, and the spacer between the panes was aluminum. It turns out that the aluminum's conductive excellence brings so much cold into the window interior that the argon shrinks up like a frat boy in a frigid lake (same moles of gas, less temperature = higher density of gas, which means those 6.02x10^23 molecules per gram take up less space, which in an airtight seal means the volume of the space has to decrease; woohoo, I finally got to use Avogadro's Number in casual conversation), which creates negative pressure between the two panes, which eventually "sucks"* them together until one breaks to relieve the pressure.


So the window dudes are busy relieving the pressure on all the other affected windows, which is warranty-covered, and Andersen will apparently mail me new glass for the broken one, but having the new glass put in is NOT covered, which sucks** because, hello, it's your manufacturing defect!

*I put "sucks" in quotes because I am not a complete scientific moron and I am well aware that vacuums do not suck; things outside the vacuum blow. Therefore the higher-pressure air outside the window is actually pushing on the window; there is no sucking involved. So all you physics nitpickers can go nitpick someone else!

**In the slang sense, not the "I don't understand how vacuums work" sense.


David said...

I kind of feel like this is cheating but... many years ago there was a great sandwich shop in Ft. Collins, Colorado, called... "Avagadro's Number". I say cheating because it was darn easy to work that into an everyday conversation.

But nice non-cheat on your part.

Peoria Pundit said...

Not to nit-pick, but I believe it was PHYSICS" that broke your window. Not chemestry. Had the intert argon gas somehow bonded with the aluminum, then chemistry would have taken place.

Eyebrows McGee said...

No, I'm pretty sure that behavior of molecules and Boyle's Law is chemistry (Avogadro, Bernoulli, STP, all that is high school chem, not physics), at least until upper college levels.

Anon E. Mouse said...

I am going to agree with Bill.
This is Physics.
If the gas has REACTED with the aluminum, then you'd have chemistry.

Case in point, water expanding when it freezes is physics. What happens you put sodium metal in water is chemistry.

In Chemistry, the nature of one of the reactants and probably both reactants would change.(Argon is inert, so by definition, it doesn't react with ANYTHING). For instance, you would have a precipitate. Broken glass is not a precipitate.

b said...

I believe the gas reacted with the temperature change...while some could argue this as a side of thermodynamics (aka physics) I will say not...and say that gas plus temperature is still chemistry as this is as eyebrows has said is Boyle's law at work (if you need a reference head on over to wikipedia for a generic one). So now we have the reaction of the gas enhancing the vacuum like state between the panes wherein physics intervened and the glass went crack. So althought physics played a role in this adventure...chemistry was the culprit...and ironically my plumber's name is Boyle. Not that anyone needs to know that but it is entertaining least to me.

Anon E. Mouse said...

I'm am sticking with Physics for now.
Argon is incapable of Chemical reaction - it is inert.
The fundamental chemical properties of the window did not change.
The Aluminum remained Aluminum, the Argon remained Argon and the windows remained silica glass.
The chemical property of an element (or a compound) does not change with the temperature. It's PHYSICAL property may.
Steam, Water, and Ice are all 2 atoms of Hydrogen and one atom of Oxygen. They are CHEMICALLY the same. They are PHYSICALLY different.
The real change here was not chemical. The change was that the air pressure between the panes of glass changed to a point that the inside air pressure was so low (or the outside pressure was so high) that it exceeded the strength of the glass.
Several different things happened here, all of the PHYSICAL and none of them CHEMICAL.
Perhaps Argon does "shrink" more when it gets cold than air or other gasses, but that is still a PHYSICAL property.

Eyebrows McGee said...

And yet the PHYSICAL property of elements is part of the study of CHEMISTRY.

Otherwise Marie Curie got her 1911 Nobel in ENTIRELY the wrong field.

Are you all really seriously learning the periodic table in physics class? Were your chemistry classes truly limited to ONLY chemical reactions, and totally ignored individual atoms, molecules, and large homogeneous groups of molecules doing interesting things? Because that's an appallingly incomplete education in chemistry that would render you literally incapable of understanding chemical REACTIONS since you wouldn't understand the fundamental properties of the chemicals that were driving those reactions.

And this is still an excellent real-world example of Boyle's Law at work, which is generally covered in high school chemistry, not physics.

Anonymous said...

dude, properties of atoms = chemistry.

quarks doing the tango = physics.

argon doing weird argonny things looks like chemistry to me. or maybe a combination, but certainly chemistry is part of that!

Anon E. Mouse said...

"argon doing weird argonny things looks like chemistry to me. or maybe a combination, but certainly
chemistry is part of that!"

Argon is inert so it doesn't do "wierd, argonny things" other than exist. It does not react.

EM sez: "And yet the PHYSICAL property of elements is part of the study of CHEMISTRY."

I sez: And yet HISTORY is part of the study of POLITICAL SCIENCE.

Yet, there is a difference between the two.

Chemistry and Physics do go hand-in-hand, of course. However, the Mr. Wizard example (I'm sure he didn't invent it, it's just where I saw it first) of water boiling in a lidless can before being capped and run under cold water, where the outside air pressure then crushes the can as the inside air is cooled was covered in my Physics class, not Chemistry.

Also, I do not agree with your use of the Marie Curie in this argument. Of course she used Physics to help describe her newly discovered elements.

Again, it was Physics that broke your window. Your windows broke due to Temperature and Pressure, which are Physical in nature.

PV=k is a Physical equation *

Also, Boyle's Law applies only to gasses. The Chemical properties of an element of compound do not change when the state of matter changes (a Physical change) - thus Boyle's Law, while you learn it in Chemistry class, is a Physical Law.
(In fact, Guy-Lussac's Law may be more appropriate than Boyle's here.)

Bottom line, Chemistry would describe two elements or compounds interacting WITH each other while Physics would describe elements or compounds being ACTED UPON.
Your Aluminum frame was made cold. Your Argon was made cold, not made different. This created a situation where the "Invisible Giant" (Air Pressure) squeezed the glass enough that it cracked.

* I am cribbing all this stuff from Wikipedia.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon E. Mouse:

You speak of changes in chemical properties through chemical reactions. Eyebrows never said that a chemical reaction broke the window. She said that chemistry broke the window. Chemistry involves the scientific study of substances and their properties.1 That would include argon.2

In fact, Eyebrows specified that a vacuum caused the glass to shatter (obviously, she did not mean "chemistry" in a literal sense).3 Since a vacuum is not a chemical reaction (and certainly neither Eyebrows nor anyone posting a comment has suggested it is), your entire argument is irrelevant, and your pedantic semantics misplaced.

If your purpose has been to convince people of your intelligence or the usefulness of wikipedia, rest assured that those who are amenable have been convinced. Further efforts are unnecessary.

1 chemistry - 1: a science that deals with the composition, structure, and properties of substances and with the transformations that they undergo; 2 a: the composition and chemical properties of a substance [the chemistry of iron], b: chemical processes and phenomena (as of an organism) [blood chemistry]; 3: a strong mutual attraction, attachment, or sympathy [they have a special chemistry] (Merriam-Webster, 1998)

2 Argon (known in _chemistry_ as one of the noble gases) is inert under most conditions, but not all. For example, HArF can be created by combining argon with fluorine and hydrogen. Regardless, even if argon did not react under any conditions, as you incorrectly claim, it would still be the subject of study by chemists. Indeed, you cannot define whether a substance reacts chemically with other substances without reverting to chemistry.

3 There is no need to define literal or figurative. We can assume that the readers have either the knowledge or a dictionary. There are even several wikipedia entries, if you prefer such a source.

Anon E. Mouse said...

I am just trying to have a little fun discussing the issue and I haven't done so in a tone as condescending as yours.

As far as my comments being "irrelevant" - well, of course they are - this is a blog, after all. All our comments are irrelevant (yes, that would include yours).

I'll not argue with you about it any further, mostly out of respect of our gracious host. EM is an extremely well-read and studied person whom I rarely CAN argue with. I relish debating smart people, such as her, because I usually learn a lot.

Eyebrows McGee said...

Well at least everybody got to exercise their high school science muscles. I'm sure our respective teachers are ever so proud. :D

Mahkno said...

I am actually impressed that most of you remember as much as you do from high school - university chemistry/physics, after how many years? Shoot I took all that in high school and college, did well in them and yet I feel like a dunce. If you don't use it, it tends to fade away from memory.

Josh said...

This has been one of the best blog comments ever. Too bad there aren't more like this. (My wife would disagree and say we are all a bunch of dorks)

My vote is for the mouse.