Posts Tagged ‘fan death’

Every country has its strange beliefs. A goodly number of Americans are convinced public health insurance is a Commie plot, many Japanese believe keeping a toy cat somewhere in their home is lucky, and the Scottish think haggis is food. Here in South Korea, a lot of folks believe in something called fan death.   

When I was teaching ESL back in Vancouver, I heard a lot about fan death. Basically, what many Koreans believe is that letting an electric fan run all night in a closed room can kill the people sleeping inside. This is why the electric fans here have timers that turn off these dangerous appliances automatically. People are very strongly encouraged to make sure they are set before going to sleep.   

Any time the topic of fan death would come up with my students, I tried to get them to explain to me how exactly an electric fan in a closed room could kill you while you slept. Some interesting explanations were offered.   

One theory is that keeping an electric fan on all night in a room with the door and windows closed can lead to suffocation. When asked how, students would explain that people suffocate because the fans move air away from them. When I pointed out that a fan moves as much air in your direction as it pushes away, they usually looked somewhat taken aback.   

Another theory I heard often is that electric fans give off carbon dioxide, which builds up to deadly levels in a closed room. Well, I see two problems with this one. First of all, you would need an airtight room for this to work. Then there is the fact that electric fans do not run on fuel and so do not produce carbon dioxide when in operation.   

Undeterred, some of my more creative and ardently committed students moved on to my favorite theory: that the blades of electric fans chop up oxygen molecules. Now, I’m just about the farthest thing from a physicist, but I am nonetheless pretty darn sure that the energy required to split apart oxygen molecules is higher than that generated by your typical household electric fan.   

Besides, all of these theories (and the many others I haven’t mentioned) also leave a couple interesting questions unanswered: Why do only sleeping people succumb to fan death? Why don’t wide awake people die as well?   

Unsafe at any speed.

Unsafe at any speed.


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