Science Poetry

Heating Curves

“Familiar, this evaporation:
Water boils from stovetop causation.  
As molecules ready,
The temp’rature’s steady:
Much action in steaming stagnation.”

The 19 April 2022 Twitter limerick described the chemistry behind the action of boiling water.  (With respect to the title, a “heating curve” is a specific type of graph often used in chemistry and other STEM disciplines, but it always seems an appropriate turn of phrase when using circular stove burners and cookware in the kitchen, as well.)  

“Familiar, this evaporation: /
Water boils from stovetop causation…”

Boiling water in a pan on the stove is an example of vaporization, a phase change between the liquid and gaseous phases of a substance when the appropriate conditions are achieved.  For water at atmospheric pressure (1 atm), the boiling point temperature would be 100 ℃, 212 ℉, or 373 K, depending on the scale used.    

(“Evaporation” is not fully synonymous with “vaporization“– which would have also scanned well– but the former is generally the more familiar word.)  

“As molecules ready, /
The temp’rature’s steady: /
Much action in steaming stagnation.”

We can imagine heating water on the stove and measuring its temperature as a function of the heat added.  We would see a steady increase from the water’s initial temperature up to the boiling point.  Then, the graph would flatten out briefly: the temperature would be steady for some time, depending on the amount of water being heated.  A certain amount of heat energy would be necessary to accomplish the phase transition itself (converting the water molecules from the liquid phase to the gas phase), before the temperature could keep rising.    

The “steaming stagnation” of the phase transition, an alliterative summary of the phase shift from liquid water to gaseous water, would involve significant molecular action.  

(As with the use of “evaporation” in the first line, I quibble somewhat with my 2022 poem as I expand it here.  I initially used “seeming stagnation,” but the rhyme it immediately brought to mind with “steaming” was too perfect not to adopt.  However, the change admittedly renders the meaning less precise, since steam is itself the gas phase of the sample of interest.)