Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lava Lamp Primer

I have a lava lamp in my office. Ok, officially it's a LAVA® brand motion lamp, but I'll call it a lava lamp for ease of... calling it. Every day, I turn it on, and it gradually warms up to produce the familiar lava dance throughout the day.

However, there are distinct stages that the "lava" goes through before it finally reaches its lava-y goodness. Those of you that have one of your own will nod along with me. Those of you that don't, prepared to be enlightened.

Stage 1: Glowing Lump. When you first turn on the lava lamp, the lava is a darkened lump at the bottom, and the light illuminates the liquid from the sides of the glass container.

Stage 2: Brain Tentacle. At some point, a portion of the lava gets melted enough to overcome the lump's seal against the side of the glass container. The melted lava shoots up the side of the glass in a thin stream and forms a folded mass at the top, cooling almost instantly. The "brain" at the top, with the "tentacle" that connects it to the lump. This stage lasts for a while. Sometimes the tentacle breaks and the brain falls onto the lump, sometimes the brain remains through portions of the next stage.

Stage 3: Bubble Factory. The bottom of the lump continues to heat, while the top is cool. The heated lava eventually melts a small hole in the lump. The hole bloops out small spheres of lava almost continuously, which rise to the top of the glass container, cool, and fall back onto the lump, where they tend to stick and coalesce. The hole and the bloops get bigger, leading to the next stage.

Stage 4: Tree Trunk Tornado. The lump has melted, and the lava forms a column that extends the entire (or almost) length of the glass container. As lava is heated, it rises within the column; as it cools, it falls back to the bottom. The writhing column sometimes takes on the appearance of a twister, hence the name. This can be a fun "game" stage, as a rising hot blob can threaten to pinch the top off the trunk, only to have singularity restored in the nick of time by a falling cool portion. This stage lasts for a while.

Stage 5: Full-on Lava Love. The one we all know. Multiple blobs of lava rising, mingling about, and falling in the liquid. The interesting (and mesmerizing) aspect of this stage is that once the lava leaves the heat source at the bottom, a blob's surface tension is too great to combine with another blob. The only way to merge is to return to the light at the bottom and be re-heated.

One interesting tidbit I learned about lava lamps is that the shape is important. The narrower top causes the liquid inside to be subjected to more surface area per volume than at the bottom, allowing it to cool more quickly and aid the rising/falling cycle of the lava. Cool, huh?

This posting brought to you as a public service. The author has received no funding or remuneration from LAVA® brand motion lamps, Lava World Internation®, or Haggerty Enterprises, Inc.


Ash said...

LOL - You have waaaaaayyyyyy too much time on your hands. :)

Shannon Perry said...

Yeah, and why do I feel like I just re-read your post on varying kinds of poo? Your lava lamp needs a t-shirt that says, "Hey, Toasty. Eyes up Here."

Lynn Sinclair said...

Another busy day at the office. :)

Anonymous said...

Missing stages:

Eventually, you get to the point where almost all the blobs are at the top, with just a few falling and quickly rising back up again. The lamp has gotten too hot - time to turn it off for a few minutes.

Also, when the lamp is getting past the column stage, you can hold the top and shake it a bit. This breaks up the big blobs into a jillion tiny blobs. Meanwhile, the lower parts still have big blobs. This way you can watch big blobs move through suspended tiny blobs.

Anonymous said...

In response to Zloth's comment, I hope you are not talking about actually shaking the lava lamp. If you shake the lava lamp, You could cause permanent clouding in the liquid. The LAVA(c) website warns against shaking the lamp for this very reason.