Third-Place "Scientific or Not?" Essay Contest Winner

Full of Hot Air

Willie Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting Drink Scientifically Unworkable

By Phoebe Huberty

In today’s society, the entertainment industry will do anything to get people’s attention and, therefore, their money. No one cares if anything in movies or in books is accurate as long as it holds their attention. One example of this is in the story "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," when Charlie, the protagonist, and his grandfather sneak away from Willy Wonka’s tour of the factory and steal a little "fizzy lifting" drink.

The result of consuming this drink is that of floating up, up and away until one begins to burp. This is not scientifically accurate for many reasons. One cubic foot of hydrogen, the lightest element in gas form, provides 1.02 ounces of lift. Therefore, for hydrogen to lift an average adult man of 191 lbs, a total of roughly 3056 cubic feet of gas would be necessary. This is about the same amount of air as in a two-car garage. This amount of air is impossible to fit into the human body, even if all of the bones, blood and organs are removed.

Secondly, carbonated beverages give off one cubic foot of CO[2] in 3.72 gallons of fluid. If the fizzy lifting drink gives off the same amount of gas per gallon, the above-mentioned man would have to drink about 11,370 gallons (or 1,520 ft[3) of fizzy lifting drink to obtain the necessary amount of hydrogen to lift him. This amount of liquid could not fit in the human body. The amount of gas in this amount of liquid would be equivalent to 4,575.89 cubic feet. In addition to adding volume, this amount of liquid would add weight. This would require even more gas for lift, which would have to come from more liquid, and so on in an endless cycle.

In conclusion, the fizzy lifting drink was only included in the story of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to help the plot and to hold readers’ attention. In order for this drink to work, it would have to give off more gas than a carbonated beverage does, and its gas would have to be lighter than hydrogen. It is impossible for a human to hold the volume of liquid and gas necessary to lift the body.