UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
What causes spontaneous combustion?Extra question from those X-Files fans: Can humans spontaneously combust?
Question Date: 1999-06-08
Answer 1:

Combustion is when a material is rapidly oxidized by its surroundings. For example, wood can burn in the presence of the oxygen in air. For most combinations of materials, an oxidizer and what gets oxidized, extra energy from an outside source is required to break the chemical bonds. This is what you do when you put a lighted match on the wood - the heat from the flame can break the chemical bonds in the wood.
For a few combinations of materials, there is no extra energy needed to break the chemical bonds, and you can have spontaneous combustion. Thankfully, for humans, there is no naturally-occurring chemical under which parts of the human body would be able to spontaneously combust. You can burn humans, but it takes an outside energy source - they won't spontaneously combust.

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2017 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use