A trained operator was blending water, sand, anhydrite, lime, cement, pulverized fly ash, and powdered aluminum in a mixing chamber to produce material for making concrete building blocks. In the blending process, sand and water are mixed to form a slurry, and then the powders are dispensed automatically into the mix by a computer-controlled system. Finally, a slurry of glycol-coated aluminum powder is added in the last few seconds before the mix is discharged into a car, and then molds are filled from the car. Adding aluminum to the mixture results in a small amount of hydrogen gas evolution, which disperses from the car into the surrounding ventilated area and out through roof vents. In addition to being an ingredient of the mix, water also helps to keep the mixture cool.

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During the early morning hours on a Tuesday, a university support staff member was preparing for an off-campus community outreach program for high-school-age students in the community. One of the program demonstrations was to show students the reaction energy and properties of the hydrogen + oxygen = water chemical reaction. It was a demonstration that the professor and the staff member overseeing the program had done for over 15 years with no incidents ever occurring.

To prepare for the demonstration, eight balloons were filled, four with pure hydrogen and four with the proper combination of hydrogen and oxygen. The balloons were placed into a larger plastic garbage bag and carried outside to a university-owned SUV located next to the building's loading dock. The bag of view more