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MathLady
MathLady, Teacher, Engineer and Mom
Category: General
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Experience:  Experience in Quality Control, Manufacturing, K-8 Education, Special Education Needs.
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A Wooden spoon layed across a pot of water will

Resolved Question:

A Wooden spoon layed across a pot of water will prevent the water from boiling over.
A metal spoon will not acomplish the same thing.
How is this possible?
Submitted: 10 years ago.
Category: General
Expert:  MathLady replied 10 years ago.
A wooden spoon will not ALWAYS prevent the water from boiling over. It's just that in two (fairly narrow) identical situations, the wooden spoon may delay the boiling over longer than the metal spoon.

You will recall that if you stir a pot and leave in the spoon, the metal spoon becomes hot (it conducts heat) while the wooden spoon stays cooler (wood is not a good conductor, its more of an insulator).

You'll also recall that when water boils with something like rice in it, you can see the rice move in circles. It is following the convection current created as the cooling water moves to the bottom as the hotter water rises in the pot. (That's a density thing.)

Now combine the two ideas. The spoons are both setting atop their respective pots. Long before the boiling begins the metal spoon is getting hotter than the wooden spoon. It is touching the pot and absorbing more heat since its metal. When the hot water bubbling up meets the hot metal spoon. It's going to stay hotter at this small surface area. In contrast, the hot water meeting the wooden spoon meets a cooler surface and the water will cool a bit as it attempts to transfer heat to the wooden spoon.

The water meeting the wooden spoon loses MORE heat than the water meeting the metal spoon. So as the pots boil, the one topped with the wooden spoon slows the boiling at the very top of the pot more than the metal spoon will.

This situation will not last forever since eventually the entire pot of water will become hotter and hotter and will overcome this small difference in heat transfer.

Hope this answers your question.
MathLady, Teacher, Engineer and Mom
Category: General
Satisfied Customers: 2
Experience: Experience in Quality Control, Manufacturing, K-8 Education, Special Education Needs.
MathLady and 47 other General Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 10 years ago.
Reply to MathLady's Post: MathLady, Thanks for your answer, it makes sense. Let me hold for some more answers before I accept yours.
Expert:  Shelia replied 10 years ago.
A metal spoon will accomplish the same thing. A wooden spoon is for your safety to prevent getting burned.
When a pot of water starts to boil over, the cool metal or wood spoon will slow it down, if left it will still boil over.