For all its flaws, the Internet can be a source of wondrous things and one such curiosity has been a resurfacing video of a man passing his hand through molten metal without getting hurt. Some have dubbed him “the undying Russian” for the nonchalant way he seems to be interacting with a flow of steel that’s around 1370 degrees C (2500°F). Is the man some sort of magician or a yogi or can science explain this phenomenon?
Of course, science can. The man, who is actually not Russian, but an Armenian steel worker named Arkady Mgdsyan, is enjoying the benefits of the so-called Leidenfrost effect.
Mgdsyan learned of this effect from his co-workers, who have almost all pulled off this feat, their steel mill’s tradition. The trick is kind of a professional rite of passage.
Mgdsyan was quite apprehensive about trying to stick his hand in molten metal, even after watching others do it. In an interview, he explained the way to achieve this effect (although this is truly a “don’t try this at home” situation) –
“If you water your hand properly prior to touching the molten mass, the steam will protect your skin from being scorched for a brief moment,” he elaborated.
Indeed, the Leidenfrost effect phenomenon occurs when water touches a molten surface, with a much higher boiling point. At that moment, an insulating layer of steam is generated. This vapor layer, like a repulsive force, keeps that liquid from boiling too rapidly. So you can stick your wet hand in an out, like Mgdsyan.
There’s a fun segment from Mythbusters just about this phenomenon. See what happens as they stick fingers into the molten lead.