As a follow-up to our liquid and solid water experiments, Nora and I decided to investigate steam. When you leave a glass of ice water out on the table why does the outside of the glass get wet? Why did the beaker in our previous experiments seem to leak without losing any mass? We explore this question by heating liquid water and then attempting to cool it quickly to see if it is possible to observe the relationship between liquid and gaseous states.
We boiled a pot of water (to make lunch, this is opportunistic science) and observed (carefully, without touching the pot) that steam began to rise from the water when the temperature got above about 100º C (212º F). The senior researcher filled a heat-resistant glass with ice (figure 1) and wiped the exterior with a dry paper napkin to verify that the glass was dry. The junior researcher then held this glass above the pot of boiling water for approximately 1 minute (figure 2).
While the glass was suspended over the steam it was observed that water quickly collected on the glass and was beginning to drip off. Then the senior researcher got distracted by something happening in the living room. The glass was subsequently removed from the steam, wiped with a dry paper napkin (figure 3), and the collected water was observed directly (figure 4).
It seems highly likely that adding heat to liquid water can cause it to transition into steam. This was confirmed by removing heat from the steam and observing the transition back to liquid water when the heat was removed by the ice. Additionally, the ice in the glass had begun to transition from the solid ice form to liquid water, an observation consistent with our previous findings. Most importantly, this experiment was really fun (except for the boring waiting) and Nora says she wants to do it again!