Nitro Mike, the student who drank liquid nitrogen
In one form or the other, this story has been circling the
Internet since 1997. Do a Google search on liquid nitrogen
ingestion, and you'll find the many incarnations of this urban
legend, including lengthy discussions on its credibility.
Well... said story is not just an Urban Legend, but it's
a true story, and I'm not proud to report that it happened at this
great engineering school. To my defense, it wasn't
me, it didn't happen in my department, and this school has been the
inspiration of many brilliant minds with far greater newsworthy
Several versions of this story report the most outrageous claims; one
version even suggests that the student drank the liquid nitrogen in an
attempt to get high. Now that makes a lot of sense. Following
is the story distilled from the school's official press
release1, and some other semi-official releases2,
The WPI chapter of the Society of Physics Students
had its annual ice-
cream social at the beginning of the 1997 Academic Year
. The unlucky
unfolds the details leading to the incident:
"As tradition dictates, we made our own ice cream, using
liquid nitrogen as a refrigerant and
aerator. We spilled a little of the nitrogen onto a table and watched
tiny little drops of it dance around." Someone asked, "Why does it do
that?" M. explained that the nitrogen evaporated
when it came in contact with the table, which provided a cushion of air
for the drop to sit on, and thermally insulated it to minimize further
evaporation- enabling it to do its little dance without scarring the
table, boiling away or being "smeared" out. "It's this principle," he said, "that makes it possible for someone to
dip his wet hand into molten
lead or to put liquid nitrogen in his mouth without
M. was a senior with experience working with liquid nitrogen.
Demonstrating the principle of the Leidenfrost Effect, M.
took a small amount of the cryogenic liquid into his mouth, to
impress bystanders by blowing "smoke" rings. M. performed a
stunt he and other students have been doing for years.
Only this time, he swallowed the liquid nitrogen...
Within seconds, M. collapsed on the floor, unable to breathe
or feel anything other than intense pain. The Emergency response team
arrived shortly after. They administered oxygen, and transported him
to the hospital. The x-rays indicated a that M. had a
perforated stomach, and a risk for perforation of the esophagus. The
entire gastrointestinal tract was scarred, burned and perforated, and
one of his lungs had collapsed.
The swallow reflex is always followed by closing of the
epiglottis. In this unfortunate incident, M. had swallowed a
cryogenic liquid that rapidly expanded to a gas volume, many times
larger than its initial volume (an expansion from a few cc's to
several liters gas). The body simply can't purge or accommodate
such large quantities of gas, and as a result M. ended up with
severe intestinal damage. M. burned his gastrointestinal
tract, because of the prolonged contact with the liquid nitrogen.
Eventually, the gas film surrounding the liquid nitrogen diminished, and
the tract came into contact with a liquid at -196 C (-321 F).