CD-ROM’s in the Microwave

What do you do with obsolete CD-ROM’s?

I cook mine in a microwave oven.


1. Place CD-ROM on a small paper cup in the center of the oven. The CD-ROM should be at least an inch above the bottom of the oven and far from the sides.
2. Turn out the room lights for best visual effects.
3. Caution! be ready to stop the oven when the CD-ROM starts to smoke. The smoke smells bad, and is probably bad for you.
4. Set the oven on high for 5 seconds.
5. Watch the pretty blue light show.
6. Turn on the room lights.
7. Look at the nifty fractal pattern etched into the aluminum:

If you have several CD-ROM’s try some label side up and some label side down. In my experience, CD-ROM’s with thin ink in the labels work best. They are prettiest when the label side is up. CD-ROM’s with thick label ink start to smoke earlier. DEC CD-ROM’s work very well, as they just have a bit of black lettering on a clear background. I have a bunch of other CD-ROM’s with full color pictures that don’t work nearly as well.

Remember, don’t try this with Mom’s Beatles albums!

This won’t harm a modern Microwave oven, unless you cook the CD-ROM too long and coat the oven with smoke. Old microwave ovens may have problems. If you can’t easily replace your oven, don’t use it for science experiments.

The Science:
The aluminum layer in a CD-ROM is very thin. The microwave oven induces large currents in the aluminum. This makes enough heat to vaporize the aluminum. You then see a very small lightning storm as electric arcs go through the vaporized aluminum. Within a few seconds there will be many paths etched through the aluminum, leaving behind little metalic islands. Some of the islands will be shaped so that they make very good microwave antennas. These spots will focus the microwave energy, and get very hot. Now you will see just a few bright spots spewing a lot of smoke. The good part of the light show is over, turn off the oven.

I suspect that if you leave the oven going much longer, the CD-ROM will burst into flame. This will smell very bad and may do bad things to your oven and house. Don’t do it.

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