Science & Reality Today: October 27, 2016: Hot Phones

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Hot phones …

Well, well, well. It seems that a certain presidential political campaign isn’t the only thing that is self-imploding. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Nearly 100 people who bought the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 have reported that the phones are overheating, causing skin burns and even catching on fire.

Consequently, Samsung and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have officially issued a recall of all Galaxy Note 7 phones sold before Sept. 15. The culprit for what happened appears to be a battery-related manufacturing problem.

A battery is made up of a positive electrode called a cathode and a negative electrode called an anode with both being connected by a liquid called the electrolyte allowing charged particles to move freely. The chemical reactions inside the battery generate electrical energy as electrons or ions flow from one electrode to the other.

Cell phones (just like laptops) use what is called a lithium ion battery, a very compact, rechargeable battery. Lithium’s atomic structure allows these batteries to store a lot of energy. This sounds great unless the battery gets overcharged or the separator between the electrodes is damaged.

Also, if there is a puncture of some kind, the ions would travel through the new path of least resistance, causing a short circuit.

A statistically small chance that this could happen exists for any lithium ion battery — especially with one that is poorly designed or installed. That includes hoverboards of which there have also been reports of some spontaneously combusting.

According to Samsung, the problem occurred because of a production error that put too much pressure on the battery inside some of the first phones to be manufactured. This error squeezed together the cathode and anode, which can cause the short circuit and produce excess heat.

I know what you may be thinking. Why is he piling on Samsung? After all, they did everything they were supposed to do once they were aware of the problem.

The purpose of this column is not to scare anyone away from buying Samsung products, but rather to give you insight as to how the problem arose and the specifics behind it.

I just got another recall for my Toyota Corolla but that won’t keep me from buying a Toyota for my next car.

If I really wanted to scare you, I would include a link at the bottom to that famous scene from the movie “Law Abiding Citizen” (if curious, feel free to YouTube: “Law Abiding Citizen Cell Phone”). Now that you’ve seen it, all I have left to say is Happy Halloween!

Oh, and don’t forget to vote.

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