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Burning your hand, or any part of your body really, is a painful experience that can have lasting effects. Simulated burning of your hand using this device, however, can still be painful, but leaves no lasting effects since the hottest temperature experienced is only 40°C (104°F). Or, as creator Adam Davis (a computer engineer and dedicated tinkerer) puts it, “cooler than my showers.”

This pain illusion of being burned, first discovered in 1896, is created by alternating hot and cold bars. The “cold” bar is set at 20°C (68°F), giving a moderate difference of only 20 degrees. Apparently the effect is different for each person. According to Davis, “Many report that it’s very uncomfortable, and some report that it’s painful.”

This effect is also amplified if the wrist is used instead of one’s palms. Davis suspects that this is because of the density of the nerves here. I remember a professor in college stating that we feel hot and cold not because of actual temperature, but as a function of energy leaving or entering your body through heat. I would suspect that this has something to do with why this trick works.

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The hot/cold bars are powered by a 150W power supply, powering two Peltier devices to heat and cool the four bars. As he puts it, it was “bodged together,” mostly out of parts from a beverage cooler. It does, however, work and was displayed at the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire. If you saw it there, I’d have to assume that you have not forgotten this “Dune Pain Box,” which was partially inspired by the torture device seen in that book.

Although this build is fairly simple, Davis plans on building something larger with an 8″×18″ surface, large enough for an adult to place both palms on the device. Once this is done and refined, Davis plans a small crowdfunding effort to see if there’s interest in something like this, perhaps for “a few museums and science educators, as well as enthusiasts.”