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The Technician with the Hot Pockets

The Technician with the Hot Pockets
A technician at a powder coating plant suddenly ran for the fire extinguisher. He shoved the nozzle in his pocket and pulled the trigger. Why?
Mysteries of Science


A large, modern research building in St. Paul, Minnesota was the home of many complex R&D operations, including a pilot plant where coating materials and processes were being tested.

Several engineers at this plant had been working on a more efficient method using radio frequency heating, similar to microwave heating to apply powder coatings.

Metal objects that come near the radio transmitting antennae get hot as the radio waves are absorbed and converted to heat. The effect only works over a short distance; metal objects that come within one foot will become warm and within six inches will become quite hot.

One day a technician, who had been searched to make sure he was not carrying metal approached the machine and suddenly ran for the fire extinguisher. He shoved the nozzle in his pocket and pulled the trigger.

What caused the technician to react this way when he approached the machine? 

Here's the rest of the story.

It turns out that there was metal in his pocket, yet it had not been obvious until he got the hot pocket treatment. He had a pack of gum in his pocket and each stick was wrapped in aluminum foil. That's not a lot of metal, but it doesn't take much to absorb the radiant energy.

There may not be any clear principle here except to think about the situation around you, and in your pocket.


Your story was most interesting; but I am curious how workers can manage to wear any pants whatsoever in the powder coating area since most all pants have metal zippers or zippers with metal pulls.

Just curious how that's working for them ...
Linda McCurry

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