• Question: Why doesnt paper melt in extremely hot temperatures?

    Asked by leahdoyle123 to Angela, Gabriele, Karen, Shane on 20 Nov 2013.
    • Photo: Gabriele De Chiara

      Gabriele De Chiara answered on 20 Nov 2013:

      Hello leahdoyle123, a chemistry question! To melt an object you need to break hydrogen bonds that keep together the object as a solid. In order to do this in paper you would need very high temperature >1000 degrees. The problem is that before you reach that temperature the organic compounds composing (carbon and hydrogen) the piece of paper burns so giving rise to flames, smoke and heat, and producing CO2 thus destroying the piece of paper. This is in contrast with a piece of metal held together solidly by electric interactions between ions and electrons. When you raise the temperature the thermal motion of the ions is larger than the electric interactions and ions (and everything else in the metal) start to slid and the metal becomes a liquid.

    • Photo: Angela Stevenson

      Angela Stevenson answered on 20 Nov 2013:

      Hi Leah, excellent question! It depends on the type of binding and fuel supply. Three sources are required to build a fire: fuel, oxygen and heat. Remove one of those and the fire won’t ignite. Most of the items that don’t burn are those that don’t contain fuel. Paper is made up of plant material, wood and oils, and all of these are a source of fuel since you have hydrogen and carbon bonds that are broken by the heat and the hydrogen is consumed. So you need fuel to burn and most fuel has hydrogen somewhere in its makeup – that’s the key chemical for fuel! So paper has a good fuel source. Also, if you put paper into an oxygen free environment then you could melt it since oxygen also has to be present for a fire to form. Hope that answers your question 🙂