Stormglass - crystals predictors

  • Tutorial
Once I was in the magazine "UT for skillful hands" №1, 1989 came across an article titled "Mysterious ampoule", telling about the unusual ancient meteorological instruments - storm glass (stormglass, camphor glass, weatcher glass , bottle Fitzroy, storm bottle) produced the device according to the proposed recipe, I began to study further, with some information and my experience, mainly of a practical plan, then I will share it.

There is information that the stormglass was already used in the XVIII century, but the most famous mention is associated with Robert Fitzroy , captain of the Beagleon which Charles Darwin traveled, he (R. Fitzroy) is often mistakenly credited with the invention of the device. The classic stormglass is a sealed elongated glass vessel filled almost to the top with a clear liquid with colorless crystals of various shapes. By changing the appearance, position and height of these crystals, it is supposed to judge the weather for the next hours and days. At one time, it was used in conjunction with a barometer, and now the stormglass is considered more as an unusual decoration for interiors, many modern researchers have come to the conclusion that the device does not fulfill its main function, but research and debate around it are still underway. Even if the stormglass does not react to anything other than temperature, it is still an interesting and beautiful thing that may well serve as a decoration. Can,

Here is one example of decoding changes in the storm class:
Transparent liquid portends clear weather, cloudy - rain.
Turbid liquid with small stars - a thunderstorm.
Small dots - fog, damp weather.
Large flakes, for winter - snow, in summer - covered sky, heavy air.
The threads at the top of the liquid are wind.
The crystals at the bottom are thick air, frost.
Small stars - in winter with clear weather - snow on another or third day.
The higher the crystals rise in winter, the stronger the cold will be.
Moreover, the device is usually located in the living room or in the cabin of the ship and is absolutely airtight, however, there is also evidence of the need to install it outside the window or on the mast of the ship, as well as the need for a small hole in the cork. But given the high sensitivity of the device to temperature changes and the extreme volatility of the sweep of alcohol and camphor, this seems doubtful. Therefore, the mixture should not be affected by a change in atmospheric pressure, but temperature fluctuations are quite smooth and are in a narrow range of room temperature, and their amplitude is small, and their nature may differ from what happens outside the window. Moreover, according to some reports, even thermostating does not deprive the device of operability. There are hypotheses that, in addition to temperature, the storm class is also affected by the electric and magnetic fields of the Earth, lightning discharges, solar and lunar activity, infrasonic vibrations, and in the case of temperature, the decisive factor is not the absolute values, but the dynamics of its change. These hypotheses are periodically proved by some authors and refuted by others, several examples of works on this subject:
Correlation with seismic events.
Correlation with solar activity.
Correlation with the phases of the moon.
Quite a lot of useful information can be found on the forum .
It seems that it can be simpler, you just need to make your own storm glass yourself and do simple research, but there are a large number of recipes, and apparently different recipes will work well for some climatic conditions and completely not work in others.


With a sufficiently lengthy search on the Internet, a huge number of different mixtures of the mixture will be found, which are quite significantly different from each other, and often use archaic or ambiguous units of measurement systems, and there are problems in the process of converting these units to more familiar to the modern researcher. Do not forget about volume and mass percent, and the change in volume when mixed with water when dealing with ethyl alcohol.

I will bring my collection of basic recipes with the conversion of units and adaptation to modern realities. Also attached is a bonus in the form of an applicationto calculate the required volumes and masses of components depending on the required volume of the mixture, this calculator also has several other features useful for researchers. According to it, wishes and corrections are accepted. Only the qualitative composition is unchanged (with rare exceptions) in different formulations, these are: camphor , the main component, it is its crystals that are observed in the storm glass, it is very volatile and has a pronounced specific smell; ammonium chloride (ammonia, not to be confused with ammonia!); potassium nitrate (potassium nitrate); ethyl alcohol (ethanol); water.

No. 1. Recipe from the English encyclopedia "Cooley's Cyclopaedia of Practical Receipts". This recipe is most popular in RuNet thanks to the magazines Chemistry and Life and UT for Skillful Hands.

2 drachmas of camphor, 1,5 drachmas of potassium nitrate, 1 drachma of ammonium chloride, 2.25 fl oz of alcohol "proof". The mixture is poured into a 12 inch long and 3/4 inch diameter tube.
In terms of metric units of measure, if we take the pharmacy drachma and take into account the change in the volume of the alcohol-water mixture (according to alcoholometric tables), we get:

7.78 g of camphor;
5.83 g of potassium nitrate;
3.89 g of ammonium chloride;
37.54 ml of 96% rectified ethyl alcohol;
28.35 ml of water.

The length of the storm glass is 30.50 cm, diameter 1.90 cm.

No. 2. A relatively rare recipe from Runet, the source is unknown.

4.40 g camphor;
2.30 g of potassium nitrate;
2.30 g of ammonium chloride;
19.50 ml of alcohol;
16.00 ml of water.

No. 3. This recipe was found on a foreign site , and was originally published in June 1997 in the School Science Review, this is the most common recipe in the foreign segment of the Internet, and also recommended by most researchers.

10.00 g camphor;
2.50 g of potassium nitrate;
2.50 g of ammonium chloride;
40.00 ml of alcohol;
33.00 ml of water.

Number 4. Recipe from The Druggist's General Receipt Book, by Henry Beasley, 1886:

2.5 drs. camphor;
38 grs. potassium nitrate;
38 grs. ammonium chloride;
9 drs. water;
6 drs. rectified alcohol.
If drs. - pharmacy drachma, and grs. - English gran, then we get the following recipe:
9.72 g camphor;
2.46 g of potassium nitrate;
2.46 g of ammonium chloride;
29.07 ml of rectified alcohol;
35.00 ml of water.

No. 5.1 The recipe from the book "Pharmaceutical Formulas by Peter MacEwan", 1908.

1/2 ounce camphor, 1/2 ounce ammonium chloride, 1/2 ounce potassium nitrate, 1 ounce rectified alcohol, 2 ounces distilled water.
Which in terms of metric units, if you use a mass ounce everywhere:
14.17 g camphor;
14.17 g of ammonium chloride;
14.17 g of potassium nitrate;
35.32 ml of rectified alcohol;
56.70 ml of water.

No. 5.2 The recipe from the book "Pharmaceutical Formulas by Peter MacEwan", 1908.

2 drachm camphor, 1/2 drachm potassium nitrate, 1/2 drachm ammonium chloride, 2 ounces of absolute alcohol, 2 ounces of water. The mixture is poured into a glass tube with a length of 10 in., And a diameter of 3/4 in.
In terms of metric units, if you use a mass ounce everywhere:
7.78 g camphor;
1.94 g of ammonium chloride;
1.94 g of potassium nitrate;
73.93 ml of rectified alcohol;
53.85 ml of water.
The length of the storm glass is 25.40 cm, diameter 1.90 cm.

No. 5.3 The recipe, according to the author, works well for the climate of Western Australia :

4.20 g camphor;
1.20 g of potassium nitrate;
0.80 g of ammonium chloride;
23.50 ml of distilled water;
23.50 ml of methylated ethyl alcohol (apparently denatured alcohol).

No. 6 Recipe from the article "Admiral Fitzroys legendäres Sturmglas":

14.5 g Campher;
2.0 g Kaliumnitrat;
4.0 g Ammoniumchlorid;
9.7 g Wasser;
9.7 g Ethanol.
If we accept that the mass of pure ethanol is given in the recipe:
14.50 g of camphor;
2.00 g of potassium nitrate;
4.00 ammonium chloride;
12.65 ml of rectified alcohol;
9.25 g of water.

There is an opinion that the D-isomer of camphor works best in the storm class, natural camphor consists of it, while the pharmacy isracemic mixture (D and L isomers in equal proportions). Camphor is the most difficult-to-reach component, you can search it at companies selling components for cosmetics, chemicals, in pharmacies with prescription departments, quite a few offers for selling camphor on eBay (often declared natural, which is good), in extreme cases it can be isolate from pharmacy camphor alcohol by adding water to it according to the method at the end of the article. Camphor alcohol itself from a pharmacy is suitable only when dry camphor is added in addition to the one already in the solution; moreover, its composition is not exactly known.

Ammonium chloride is sold in chemical stores and in radio stores. Potassium nitrate also in chemical stores or in the form of potassium nitrate, in the latter case it should be cleaned by recrystallization (this is at the end of the article). Distilled water is often found in car dealerships. Ethyl alcohol can be used as 96% rectified, and 70%, preferably without various additives.


To make a storm glass, it is necessary to accurately weigh salts and camphor, measure the volume of alcohol and water. For weighing, you can use Chinese jewelry scales with an accuracy of 0.01 g. You can measure volumes with a graduated cylinder or a measuring tube, as well as weighing liquids taking into account their density.

You can immediately add camphor to the container prepared for the device and pour it with alcohol, you can also dissolve it in 2/3 of the calculated volume of alcohol, transfer the solution to the container for the storm glass and rinse with the remaining alcohol. Then dissolve the salts in water and add the resulting salt solution to the camphor solution and mix thoroughly (you can simply close the cork and turn it over several times or shake it), a little air should remain between the solution and the bottom of the cork. In this case, camphor will fall out in the form of a white precipitate, which indicates the correctness of the action.

Then close the device with a stopper, allow all bubbles to float, open for a moment to equalize the pressure, close and apply sealant, remove to cold.

The finished stormglass needs to be fixed in an upright position on a black matte background and placed not far from the window, but away from heating systems and other heating appliances. After about a week, the camphor precipitate will condense and separate crystals will appear.

In popular sources, erroneous and even harmful recommendations are often found or important points are missed, I will list some of them:

It is impossible to cover the storm glass with a rubber stopper, this will inevitably lead to yellowing of the mixture, and the more time passes, the more saturated the color will be. It is ideal to seal the vessel with the mixture, if it is impossible to seal it, you can use a ground glass stopper without lubrication, or a fluoroplastic / polyethylene stopper (slightly worse), the stopper should ensure absolute tightness of the vessel, it is convenient to final fix it with epoxy resin, applying it in the thickening stage on top of the stopper .

Salts need to be dissolved in water, and camphor in alcohol, you do not need to heat the solutions, this will only create unnecessary problems with the subsequent sealing and volatile components of the mixture. It is important that the contact between the cork and the surface of the vessel is dry, otherwise, under the influence of the internal vapor pressure of alcohol and camphor, the liquid will leak out and prevent the sealant from fixing on the surface. After applying the sealant, the stormglass is well placed for several hours in the cold, in the refrigerator or taken out onto the balcony in the cold season.

After mixing an aqueous solution of salts and an alcoholic camphor solution, gas dissolved in water is released for some time, it is worthwhile to close the device with an airtight stopper, let all the bubbles float and equalize the atmospheric pressure before final sealing.

The vessel should be made of thin transparent glass, the best shape is elongated (like a wide tube), this creates optimal conditions for observation and the formation of a variety of crystals.

Some information on the recipes I tried

From left to right: recipes 1, 2, 3, 4

The very first I made a storm class according to recipe No. 1, and in it, at first only in the summer (apparently under the influence of elevated temperature), and later on there is liquid stratification throughout the year, which is in appliances and other people who made the storm class according to this recipe, when a layer of oily liquid is observed in the upper part of the solution. When shaken, it dissolves and after a while appears again.
Subsequently, several experimental storm classes with formulations No. 2, 3, 4, 5.1 were made. In No. 5.1, a lot of camphor precipitated, which floated on the surface of the solution and did not sink to the bottom, it was excluded from observations, this can be explained by the high density of the solution (the calculator allows you to approximately calculate it). Apparently, the density of the solution should be very close to the density of camphor (0.99 g / ml), but in no case significantly higher than it. In the course of further observations, No. 1 did not react at all to weather changes, No. 2 reacted to deterioration and improvement quite noticeably, No. 3 reacted most actively, and No. 4 slightly. Here you can see one of the reasons why some researchers believe that the device does not react to anything other than a change in temperature, because the most popular is the recipe number 1, I don’t think

In my opinion, the stormglass is a very interesting device, and what is important, it is quite simple to manufacture and effectively looks. Almost an ideal object for study for schoolchildren and students, and there is something to study, the influence of factors (especially when thermostating and automatic registration are possible), research and search for optimal recipes, the effect of camphor isomers, the possibility of replacing the components of the mixture with others, etc.

Isolation of camphor from a pharmacy 10% alcohol solution.
Camphor is very poorly soluble in water (~ 0.12 g in 100 g of water), therefore, if you add a sufficient amount of water to camphor alcohol, then camphor will almost completely stand out in solid form.

To do this, pour a few jars of pharmaceutical camphor alcohol into a large glass with a tight lid and add a small stream of water in several portions until the camphor floats to the surface, i.e. the solution becomes heavier than camphor, after which we add some more water. Next, you need to let camphor condense and settle for an hour, then it can be filtered or decanted (drained), and squeezed well. There is still a lot of water in the resulting mass and the subsequent drying will take a long time. Therefore, camphor should be transferred to a small container with a tight lid, and periodically mix the mass by draining the released water.

When the water ceases to stand out, you can start drying. Camphor is very volatile and can be dried and then stored only in airtight containers. Dry over calcined calcium chloride or calcined silica gel, or any other desiccant . To do this, place a small glass with moist camphor in a larger glass with a desiccant poured onto the bottom. Periodically, a large glass should be opened to mix and assess the humidity of camphor. We dry until camphor ceases to be wet to the touch.

Purification of salts by recrystallization.
To clean contaminated salts, for example, potassium nitrate in the form of fertilizer, it is necessary to carry out a recrystallization process, possibly repeatedly. To do this, contaminated salt is added to hot water while heating continues until it stops dissolving, you can also add a little activated carbon powder, then the solution is quickly filtered. There may be problems in the absence of a heated funnel, crystallization can begin right in the funnel, to avoid this, you can heat the solution even 10 degrees higher than the temperature at which the solution was saturated, pre-heat the funnel and filter as quickly as possible through a small piece of cotton wool or other porous material available. In extreme cases, the solution can be allowed to settle without stopping heating.

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Do you have a desire to make your own stormglass?

  • 49.5% Yes 164
  • 45.6% No 151
  • 3.3% Already have, bought 11
  • 1.5% Already own, hand made 5

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