You've likely heard the cautionary tale of a daring individual whose tongue got stuck to a freezing metal pole.

This classic scenario has been popularized in movies, such as "A Christmas Story," but have you ever wondered about the science behind this humorous yet potentially painful situation?


Understanding Thermal Conductivity

To comprehend why your tongue can stick to a frozen pole, you must first understand the concept of thermal conductivity.

Thermal conductivity refers to a material's ability to conduct heat.

In this case, metal, like the pole in question, is a good conductor of heat.

When you touch a metal pole on a frigid day, the heat from your tongue begins to flow into the metal due to its high thermal conductivity.

This causes the temperature of your tongue to drop rapidly.

As it loses heat, it may freeze or become partially frozen, depending on the severity of the cold.

The Formation of Ice Bonds

The moisture on your tongue plays a crucial role in this scenario.

Your tongue is usually moist, which means it contains water.

As the tongue's temperature drops, the water on its surface begins to freeze.

Here's where the magic (or science) happens: when water molecules freeze, they form ice crystals.

These ice crystals can create weak bonds with the metal surface.

The intermolecular forces that hold the ice in place on the metal are not particularly strong, but they are enough to keep your tongue stuck.

Furthermore, your tongue's rough texture, with small bumps and crevices, can provide additional surface area for these weak bonds to form.

This is why a moist tongue can adhere to a cold, metal surface.

Overcoming the Sticking Phenomenon

First off, Don't do it!!!

But If you did, how do you get your tongue unstuck from the pole?

The solution lies in reversing the process.

You need to introduce heat to break the weak bonds between the ice and the metal.

This can be done by applying something warm, like warm water, to the tongue or the metal surface.

Once the ice begins to melt and loses its grip, you can gently pull your tongue away.

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Gallery Credit: Tammie Toren

A Winterization Checklist to Ready Your Home for the Cold

You can do the majority of these essential tasks on a weekend by yourself and most don’t require a lot of money to complete. Not up to the task? Hire someone handy to do it all. Whatever you decide, they're important winterization steps for all homeowners and by following them your home will be ready for winter and your family more comfortable. And, you’ll save a few bucks to boot. 

Gallery Credit: Paul Drake

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