Creating explosions in the name of research

University of Otago chemistry PhD student Dan Hutchinson uses his flaming hand to burst and...
University of Otago chemistry PhD student Dan Hutchinson uses his flaming hand to burst and ignite a hydrogen-filled balloon during a filmed experiment at the NHNZ headquarters in Dunedin yesterday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Flaming hands, frozen sheep brains and exploding balloons feature in the latest advanced still and moving footage from Dunedin, likely to be seen around the world.

Staff and students from the University of Otago's chemistry department spent yesterday setting themselves alight, freezing then shattering everyday objects and creating explosions at the NHNZ headquarters in Dunedin.

A $500,000 phantom camera owned by NHNZ, just one of a few in New Zealand, was used to capture each spectacle at 1000 frames per second.

Footage will add to the extensive NHNZ library and be available for purchase by national and international film, marketing and commercial companies.

The university will also use images to promote its science department and incorporate footage into its programme for this year's eighth New Zealand International Science Festival in Dunedin, to be held from June 30 to July 8.

NHNZ stock footage archive director Caroline Cook said collaboration with the University of Otago to visually capture detailed scientific experiments and chemical reactions began about a year ago.

"All of the footage will end up in the stock footage library and be available for things like documentaries and, in particular, to advertising agencies.

"That's why we are shooting in front of a black background, so the footage can be used for any background," she said.

The challenge for NHNZ was alerting the international community to what was available, Ms Cook said.

Its own promotion, including the use of popular video websites, would help.

Yesterday's photo shoot was the first of its kind for NHNZ, Ms Cook said.

In the hydrogen experiments balloons exploded on the touch of a flaming hand and bubbles turned into balls of fire.

Silane, dry ice, iron oxalate, liquid oxygen, potassium iodide and phosphorus were also used to dazzle.

Flowers were dipped in liquid nitrogen and shattered, before the technique was used on a sheep's brain.

"That is the kind of thing advertisers can have a lot of fun with, playing on things like brain freeze," Ms Cook said.

Video camera footage of the scientific experiments would appeal to education providers, she said.

"There are people out there, big publishers, trying to reach out to kids in schools and this kind of footage is perfect content for them.

"We are already dealing with people in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and New Zealand," she said.



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