is the glycerin story true? spoilers Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
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When it comes to the discussion of crystals, there’s a famous legend about glycerin. The story that’s frequently found in occult books goes like the following:
"……Glycerin is an important compound used as lubricant, food additive, and various industrial ingredients. However, no one has ever been able to crystallize it, leading to the belief that the solid state of glycerin does not exist.” (Figure 2.15) But one day, a barrel-full of glycerin on a British cargo ship was found completely crystallized. When the news spread and the laboratories everywhere rushed to ask for a sample as seed crystal, and something strange happened. Shortly after the discovery, the glycerins in factories and laboratories around the world began to crystallize all together even without seed crystals. That puzzled the chemists in all fields, because nothing had been changed in both production and storage conditions. A speculation that a seed crystal might have gotten in from someone’s clothing or skin was unlikely because carefully controlled experiments showed the same result. Today, glycerin can be crystallized easily by anyone by simply cooling it to seventeen degrees Celsius…… "
Well, this is the legend which has become famous recently and has even been on a cartoon. Professor Makoto Kikuchi of Osaka University in Japan has done an investigation on this case, and he arrived at an article published on the Journal of American Chemical Society in 1923. The article said:
“After the seed crystals had arrived it was found that crystallization practically always occurred when amounts of 100 g. of any laboratory sample were slowly warmed over a period of a day, after cooling to liquid-air temperatures. This occurred even when great precautions were taken to exclude the presence of seeds. However, it was found readily possible, by temperature manipulation alone, to produce crystalline or supercooled glycerol at will.” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1923, 45, 93.
So, the legend is probably based on this article, but with some extra exaggerations attached. It is quite possible that the original report became more and more farfetched as it was told among the researchers who had experienced unpredictable things while having hard times crystallizing compounds. By the way, even today glycerin can be crystallized only by adding a seed crystal at zero degree Celsius or warming it slowly from very low temperature. Unlike what many books say, crystallizing glycerin is still not an easy thing to do. Let’s just remember to be careful about believing these kinds of story.