Science Around the Campfire
When I was little, my dad taught me how to roast the perfect marshmallow; slightly toasted on the outside and delightfully gooey on the inside. Little did I realize the simple science behind this fun summer activity.
Let's start by looking at the camp fire. There are two different types of heat coming from the fire. We have convective heat coming from the flame's hot gases and radiant heat from the burning coals. Daniel Madryzkowski, a fire protection engineer from the National Institute of Standards and Technology explains, "You want to stay a little to the side of the flames, and also over an area where you see glowing coals," Though it's hard to find that sweet spot in the dancing flames. "If you want to get it nice and toasted, you typically rely on radiant energy."
While my dad's advice didn't include those techincal terms, he had the right idea. Though too often I became impatient, didn't find that sweet spot and lit my marshmallow on fire. (Oooops!) Though Dad was very good to me. He'd trade me his perfectly roasted marshmallow for my "charboiled souffle".
So the next time you're sitting around the camp fire roasting marshmallows, give a little thought to the science behind the perfect marshmallow. For instance, why do marshmallows catch on fire so easily? To find out, listen to NPR's broadcast.