RE: The Korean Fan Death Phenomenon

I have studied the Korean language and culture for a few years and am currently stationed in Korea. I just want to mention the funniest theory I have heard as to why fan death occurs. It seems that the fan blades actually chop the oxygen molecules in half. Of course the theory doesn’t address that this would pretty much be nuclear fission or something close.

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Will sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan cause death? (12-Sep-1997)

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kugaknk, do you mean oxygen atoms are chopped in half? Can you prove that this does not happen? :wink:

Yes, I meant to say atoms. I tried to edit my response after posting only to find I can’t do that.

I’m hoping your kidding about proving it. I don’t remember everything from HS Chemistry, but I’m pretty sure splitting any atom results in a powerful explosion. If I’m mistaken, please enlighten me.

Yes, kugaknk, I was kidding. We’re a sarcastic bunch here at the SDMB. The little icon you say (called a smiley) can be the first clue to you that the poster is kidding. You can see a list of smilies by clicking on the link near the top of the page when you are in the reply window.

Actually, no. Atoms lighter than Iron absorb energy in order to fission; that’s why hydrogen fuses. Only Atoms heavier than Iron emit energy. (And only the handful of isotopes that happen to emit multiple slow neutrons when they fission can be used to create a chain reaction.)

I suspect kugaknk really does mean oxygen molecules rather than oxygen atoms. All fission aside, since oxygen is diatomic, I’d think the “theory” he’s reporting is that the fan blades chop those li’l O[sub]2[/sub] molecules into two O atoms (as opposed to splitting the individual atoms). Quite silly, yes, but you can imagine someone with only a vague understanding of molecules convincing themselves that the “dumbbell-shaped” diatomics are ripe for bein’ busted open right at that weak spot in the middle.

Yes, that is how I have heard it, thank you. So pretty much the room fills up with O and the person sufficates.
This whole subject is very touchy really. There are a few Koreans who realize how silly it is, but a huge majority believe it so fully (doesn’t help that they report statistics on the news) that it becomes a very heated argument if you try to discuss it with them. I have even seen some get their feelings hurt when you try to disprove it to them. But this is just a small thing in a long line of weirdness that develops when your culture goes from 0 to 60 the way it has for the ROKs. But that’s why it’s called “The Land of the Not-Quite-Right.” :stuck_out_tongue:

 Actually, chopping an oxygen atom in two would not result in an explosion, powerful or not. It would *TAKE* a lot of energy to accomplish, instead.

 Any atom lighter than iron-56 will release energy upon combining with something else (as long as the result is no greater than iron-56), and will consume energy if split. Any atom heavier than iron-56 will consume energy from combining and liberate energy from splitting (assuming the products are no lighter than iron-56.) There are more complex cases (two light's combining to make something above iron-56, or something above it splitting into things below it) that you have to work out the energies to decide what happens.

Isaac Asimov discusses this at length in one of his “Relativity of Wrong” essays. Fusing two light (i.e. lighter then iron-56) atoms will release energy, though only the two-hydrogen-atoms-into-helium releases enough for spectacular effect, i.e. kindling a star. When the hydrogen is consumed, the star can fuse its helium into heavier atoms, if its gravity is high enough. Elements heavier than iron-56 are created in supernovas when the fusion forces are so powerful that iron atoms get mashed together, even though this represents a huge loss of energy.

Actually, being able to split diatomic oxygen molecules into elemental oxygen with something as simple as a electric fan would get you a Nobel Prize and immense wealth. Elemental oxygen (and hydrogen) could replace fossil fuels. Once again, western technology has been greatly improved by our disciplined and wily Asian cousins.

So if I’ve got this right, then if the fan is splitting oxygen atoms, this will absorb energy … and thus cool the room! Hey, it all fits together now!