Difluoroethane: Why does it get so cold?

In the summer of 2015 the Goodell-Creek Fire ran up the valley far faster than expected. We at the North Cascades Institute's Environmental Learning Center had been on a level 1 alert for a few hours when the power went out. Within minutes we got the word that we were now on level 2, which meant that we should go back to Diablo where all of our belongings were and pack up. Level 2 usually lasted for a few hours so we knew we had to move but not rush.

Upon taking the 7 minute drive down to Diablo, Seattle City Light made the situation up to level 3 which basically means LEAVE NOW. So when we reached our houses in Diablo the SCL staff gave us all only 10 minutes to grab what we could and start evacuating out east. In the rush to grab clothes and supplies for who knew how long, I stopped for a solid 30 seconds to say good bye to my computer.

This computer was so much more than a machine to me. It was funded as a graduation gift from my grandfather and a few close friends helped me build it. It had traveled from PA to NH and even WA. It was named after the dragon Odahviing in Skyrim, for it was always there when I needed it. It was also my connection to so many great experiences; from games to skyping to research. And it was now time to say goodbye. It was then that I fully accepted it being engulfed in flame; a fitting end to any dragon.

Ten days later when the roads finally opened back up for us to start gathering belongings, a small crew of NCI staff/grads set forth on the multi-day drive from Marblemount. Upon their return I discovered Odahviing was safe. So while everyone was ecstatic to have snowboards and tents, I was clutching my little dragon dearly.

My experience living on Thompson Island in the Boston Harbor was truly amazing. I grew so much as an educator and a person in those five months. But one of the limits on island life was the fact that I could not bring Odahviing. It was too big, clunky, and it might get seriously damaged. So when I came back to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago I knew I needed to do something special with my computer. This was going to be the start of a more rooted lifestyle for me, and cleaning out Odahviing was the perfect place to begin.

Within days of coming back I took my baby dragon to my computer guru and dear friend, Ethan. Before factory resetting it Ethan suggested we clean out any dust that might have built up over the years. So he went to the back and grabbed a generic can of 'multi-purpose duster' for electronics.

Inside Odahviing with a can of duster

Inside Odahviing with a can of duster

While clearing out all of the dust Ethan mentioned "Oh, don't hold onto it for too long, it gets really cold." Sure enough, within seconds of using the can the bottom became wicked cold. Why though?

Even though it is called "a can of air," the contents of the can are actually called Difluoroethane (C2H4F2). With just a bit of research, I found my answer as to why it gets so cold.

Neat. That answers the question...but also brings up the "how do refrigerators work exactly?" 

The point of this Life Time Liberal Arts posts are to get me into the habit of small, every day research into a subject. What did you research today?