Fire Piston

Produced by the National STEM Centre and the Institute of Physics, this video demonstrates how compressing a gas increases its temperature. A small piece of cotton wool is placed into the bottom of a narrow plastic tube. When the air is rapidly compressed by a piston, the air temperature increases and the cotton ignites. The 'fire piston' can be used to illustrates the transfer of energy, kinetic theory and Charles' law.

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Stuart Billington

Brilliant! I have spent my life completely ignorant of such things!

Google informs me that 1) the "Hyman Fire Piston" is £26 from Timstar and 2) there are dozens of websites devoted to selling beautifully hand-carved wooden ones (for camping) and dozens more showing you how to construct your own from stuff you can get from your local hardware store.

Carol Davenport

I bought one of the camping versions, but have struggled to get it to work (and doesn't bode well if I ever really needed to use it).

The video shows really clearly how this works, and the slow mo is great. I'll have to try and get hold of the version of the fire piston shown here.