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Thermal Conductors and Insulators

The structure of a material dictates how well heat will transfer through it.

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Credit: istolethetv
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/istolethetv/8469989146/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

A woman walks barefoot across a bed of glowing coals. The temperature of the coals is greater than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but her feet won’t get burned.

Amazing But True!

  • Believe it or not, people have been walking on hot coals for thousands of years! It’s an ancient tradition that has been practiced by Buddhists, Hindus, and Native Americans, among others. It’s still practiced all over the world today.
  • Credit: Indi Samarajiva
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/indi/3793999063/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    A firewalking ceremony in the village of Udappu on the island of Sri Lanka [Figure2]

  • Self-improvement gurus even use it. Their seminars are part pep talk, part circus act. People are convinced that through positive thinking they can change their body chemistry and walk safely on coals.
  • One after the other, they walk barefoot across the glowing embers and arrive unharmed on the other side.
  • Is walking on coals an example of mind over matter? Or is it something else? Watch this video to find out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-W5FRl0qhOM&list=PLc6PgSIptV-nnoBxSf5yXIj4-hl7Y6sg7&index=21


What do you think?

With the link below, learn more about firewalking. Then answer the following questions.

  1. When you walk on “fire,” what are you actually walking on?
  2. What properties of charcoal and ash prevent your bare feet from burning if you walk quickly over them?
  3. If the glowing coals were made of iron instead of carbon, what would happen to your feet? Why?
  4. The man in the video named Michael Shermer walked across the coals without thinking positive thoughts. His feet were not burned. The motivational speaker said that Michael’s positive belief in physics protected his feet from the hot coals. What do you think?
  5. If you reach for a metal cookie sheet in a hot oven, your skin doesn’t burn unless you touch the hot metal. Explain why.

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: istolethetv; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/istolethetv/8469989146/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Indi Samarajiva; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/indi/3793999063/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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