28 October 2012

Vanishing Ink

I've got another science conundrum for you. It's not quite as mysterious as the last one, but more amusing, really. It's (drum roll please) The Case of the Vanishing Ink.

For my current course, I'm supposed to be following a particular kind of journal-writing practise, one that involves putting on a Baroque music CD, lighting a candle, and then introspecting for half an hour by cello warbles and candlelight. Great - I love Baroque, and adore candlelight. So I thought I'd get out something a bit special for the purpose: I have a pack of floating candles that I bought a couple of years ago and never used yet; they're shaped sort of like fat lenses and are meant to be floated in pretty dishes while softly illuminating their surroundings. Seeing as the bag of candles sat in the broom closet through two hot summers (we usually have at least one week when the temperatures go well above 30°C), they melted out of shape and stuck together. But I thought they might still be useful.

I got out a little plexiglass dish, filled it with water, and dropped a candle in. Purty. But, I thought, how about making it a bit more interesting? I could colour the water, I thought. Not having my watercolours handy, I reached for the nearest colouring agent, which was a cartridge of blue ink from my fountain pen. So I dropped in about four or five drops, and watched it swirl around the water. Lovely, deep royal blue colour. I lit the candle, and started my first piece of journalling. Then I looked at the candle dish again. Hmm, I thought the water had been darker blue. Ah well. Back to writing. Another look at the dish - is it just me, or is the water getting paler by the minute? No, it's not just me. After half an hour or so, the water had gone completely clear:

Now, that kind of ink (Pelikan Royal Blue, if you must know) usually fades over time, anyway, especially if it's left in the sun; I knew that. But to disappear completely, and in such a short time? That's just weird. But it happened. Twice. I recoloured the water after it had gone clear, and again, the ink totally faded in an hour or so. I don't know - maybe it would eventually reach its ink saturation point and stay blue? But I'm not going to try it out; those ink cartridges are imported all the way from Germany and I don't want to waste them on having them fade away in the water. The candle looks pretty enough bobbing in clear water.

Life, the Universe, and Mysteriously Vanishing Ink. Science is a strange thing.


  1. Hmmmm.... I tend to do my writing by Bach for Babies at Quiet Time while my crew pretends to be resting. I ditched the candle weeks ago. The vanishing ink is VERY cool, though. I wonder what the chemical reaction is? It's unlikely to be the heat, because the water surrounding a floating candle doesn't get all that warm. Is it reacting with something in the water? Pelikan prides itself on water-soluable solutions that react well to ink eradicators (saving us all those ugly white-out smears). Hmmm.... My brain is full of story and Sherlock Holmes' faked suicide. I'll research the chemistry another day ;-)

    1. Yeees - you're absolutely right, this is the very ink that's erasable with a Tintenkiller! The only one, I think, too (the other colours of Pelikan ink are non-erasable, or at least were when I was a kid). I had not thought of that. I bet that has a lot to do with it.