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Discussion about yesterday’s mercury “beating heart” reaction post got me thinking about chemical oscillators in general. Turns out, the mercury beating heart may be the only mechanically oscillating chemical reaction that anybody knows about. It’s certainly the only one I know about, and its the only one I can find on the web. But if you know of another mechanically oscillating reaction, do please drop me a comment. However……there are other oscillating chemical reactions. None of them result in mechanical action, but the cyclical color changes of, for instance, the Briggs-Rauscher reaction (shown above) are pretty cool in and of themselves. The prototype chemical oscillator is the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction (Wikipedia) which was only discovered in the 1950s. For years, no respectable journal would print reports of oscillating chemical reactions because many editors could not reconcile their understandings of thermodynamics with the notion of an oscillating reaction. Guess who had to eat crow?

Thanks to YouTuber groswilly for the above footage.

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.


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