Baby Food Bombs

A Matter of Science

Some family friends came to visit for a weekend and brought with them a 2-year-old. In case you don't have experience with 2-year-olds, they are one of the most destructive things on the face of the planet, but that's another story.(1) As were eating breakfast, the infant's father, Bob, was mixing a batch of baby-cereal. I have no idea why, but Bob remarked, "I've always wondered if this stuff would explode, if it were mixed with an oxidizer."

That's a really interesting question to ask over waffles and coffee!! And, as you'd expect, I'm just the kind of guy who can answer it. In fact, I just happened to have about 2 pounds of potassium perchlorate in the kitchen, and it was a matter of a few moments to collect a tablespoon of baby cereal mix, a film cannister, and a length of fuse. The "standard" mix for a perchlorate/aluminum bomb is 70% perchlorate to 30% aluminum, so I decided to use the same proportions of baby food. Call it 3:1 and that's close enough.

 

Bob Detonates The Baby Food Bomb - Mpeg 2 (4.01 MB) - Audio strongly recommended

If you watched the preceeding video, you can tell it's kind of anticlimactic. I think it's an open question as to whether or not the "explosion" was the result of the fuse generating pressure in the cannister, or a small reaction taking place between the sugars in the baby food and the perchlorate (a well-known rocket-fuel reaction).

A more typical flash-bang is produced using perchlorate (70%) and aluminum (30%) powder. These substances are becoming harder to get in the post 9/11 era so be careful if you even make the attempt to obtain them - you may wind up on some Department of Homeland Security list of potential baby-food terrorists.

A Somewhat Larger Explosion (4.01MB)

The perchlorate/aluminum reaction is fairly dangerous for a low explosive. It's extremely fast-propagating and is primarily used for flash powders and stage effects. Even if it's not contained, it can generate considerable force - putting less than a teaspoon full of the mixture in a kraft paper tube is called an "m-80" and can easily blow your hand to pieces. This compound reacts so fast that it's hard to contain, which makes it a poor rocket fuel - but perchlorate/aluminum is a nice payload for a model rocket that you have decided to violently decommission. Just make sure you're not really close when it goes off. This test shot (3 tbsp of perchlorate, 1 of aluminum) blew all the grass off the ground in a 4 foot radius and was probably audible for several miles. If you're holding one of these flashbangs when it goes off, you'll have no arm up to your elbow. Always exercise extreme caution, etc.

If you want to play it safe, I suggest you stick to the perchlorate/baby cereal 3:1 mixture.

Marcus J. Ranum
Morrisdale, PA, Sept 17, 2005

(1: within 24 hours of arriving on the farm the 2-year-old had succeeded in head-butting my 8,000lb tractor. There was a lot of bleeding and screaming but the tractor was fortunately OK)