Saturday, July 2, 2011

Dr. H.T. Barnes of Mecanno Magazine Fame

The September, 1929 issue of Mecanno Magazine briefly outlined Dr. H.T. Barnes efforts to destroy icebergs with thermite. Thermite is a mixture of aluminum powder and iron oxide, (rust), that burns at temperatures up to 5000 F, but does not normally explode. Dr. Barnes discovered that thermite embedded in ice would in fact explode. He patented the process as a method to destroy ice jams and icebergs. Decades later, the guys at Mythbusters would explore exploding thermite as urban myth, (see the video below), apprently unaware of Dr. Barnes' research. Here’s an excerpt from the Mecanno magazine article detailing Dr. Barnes' research:

"From ice jams to icebergs is a very natural step, and the inventor of the thermit method, Professor H.T. Barnes of Montreal, decided to try to blow up an iceberg by this means. For his first trial, he chose one that was nearly 100 ft. in height. Into a hole bored just above the waterline he placed 160 lb. of thermit and fired the mixture with a slow-burning fuse. Flames shot 125 ft. into the air and the berg was so badly cracked that one-third of it broke away completely a few hours later"

In addition to exploding icebergs, Dr. Barnes worked with Ernest Rutherford at McGill University in Montreal on the radio-chemistry experiments

that would eventually earn Rutherford the 1908 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances". Dr. Barnes became Macdonald Professor of physics at McGill University in Montreal after Rutherford left the post to relocate to England.

Professor Barnes most publicized work however was his work on detecting and destroying icebergs. In addition to being featured in Mecanno Magazine, it was also featured in "Popular Mechanics" and "Popular Science" at the time.

Thermite is a mixture of powdered aluminum and iron oxide, (rust), that burns at temperatures up to 5000 degrees F. It doesn't normally explode, but when put in contact with ice as in Dr. Barnes' experiment, it will. As it turns out, the guys from the Mythbusters show unknowingly replicated Dr. Barnes experiment recently. You can watch the resulting explosion below:

Dr. H. T. Barnes Reading List:
Experiments with wireless telegraphy on trains

Engineering News Volume 67, 1912 Iceberg Detection

Ice Breaking Patent

Map for H. T. Barnes

View HT Barnes in a larger map

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