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Education Science

5 Strangest Materials 196

MattSparkes writes to tell us that NewScientist recently posted a quick look at five interesting materials with some very strange properties. There are liquids you can walk on, liquids that will escape containers by creeping up the sides, and magnetic liquids that can easily show you the shape of magnetic fields. The story also offers video links to display some of more amazing properties described.
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5 Strangest Materials

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  • by heauxmeaux ( 869966 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @06:54PM (#17451668)
    I would like to nominate whatever the hell Wonder Bread is made from.

    One tiny loaf can turn an entire nation into disgusting bloated sacks of lazy crap.
    Truly a mystery of the ages.
    • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:54PM (#17452214) Journal
      What about transparent aluminum?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      I would like to nominate whatever the hell Wonder Bread is made from.

      I believe that would be high fructose corn syrup. Yes. Mostly high fructose corn syrup.

    • by CosmeticLobotamy ( 155360 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:23PM (#17452532)
      I have a feeling I'm missing a reference to something, but in case I'm not, Wonder Bread isn't that bad. It's 60 calories a slice. 70 is about average for white bread. Most whole wheat breads are around 90. The best you can buy around here is 35, and it tastes like recycled toilet paper that came out too moist and delicious so they ran a hairdryer over it for a week. If you're trying to be less of one of those bloated lazy crap sacks, switching to Wonder Bread isn't a bad place to start.
      • I prefer real bread to any "white" bread. Rye, sour dough, French bread. ect.. "white" bread feels like I'm eating peanut butter without the peanuts after a few chews.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @09:20PM (#17452940)
        I'm scared of foods that mold won't grow on. It's just not right.
      • by acherusia ( 995492 ) on Thursday January 04, 2007 @01:24AM (#17454786)

        I have mod points, but I'm commenting instead because you kind of hit a pet peeve of mine. I used to feel the same way about low calorie foods. The lower the calories were per serving, the better it was for me, even if it tasted like someone had put dog turds in it.

        Only I was never satisfied after that, because everything was so bloody tasteless. I want food with flavor and texture and interest, damnit. So I ate more because I was craving something that resembled real food. I gained a lot of weight following that advice. Then I switched to cooking more from scratch (which I enjoy anyway), to paying more attention to the flavor of the food than the caloric content, and to enjoying what I ate. And to not eat crap food when I wasn't hungry simply because it was time to eat. Didn't lose the weight I gained (partially, I'll admit, because a hobby of baking desserts, especially when bored or stressed, just never helps on any diet), but didn't gain any more. And I was a hell of a lot happier with myself than when I was eating cardboard for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

        I'm not saying you should always only eat high calorie foods, just don't eat low-calorie food if you think it tastes like crap. Life's too long to waste on bad food every day.

        • This works really well with some foods. Buy yourself some really good chocolate, then you're good after a couple squares, you don't have to eat very much. If you buy crappy chocolate, you end up eating an entire bar, and still not feeling satisfied.
      • empty calories (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ukemike ( 956477 )
        60 calories and 0 nutritional value. How is that a good thing? Wonder bread is to wheat as high fructose corn syrup is to corn. Wonder has almost no fiber. It is almost pure starch which is quickly converted into sugar in you digestive system. If you have low blood sugar and need a boost NOW eating a slice of wonder is faster than eating a powered sugar donut.
      • We had two blizzards in December in my town. The processed, slice white bread was the first to be emptied from the shelves along with milk, eggs, and TV dinners.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Wonder Bread, which is neither...
  • by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @06:56PM (#17451684) Homepage Journal
    I always wondered why I kept sliding out of the bath.
    Now I know its just because my atoms all have the same quantum state.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "Fall heavy towards the moon, and the moon falls also towards you." -- Nietzsche

      Hammer and feather are dropped simultaneously from equal heights (as measured by distance from the center of the moon), separated laterally by a distance substantially less than the moon's diameter. Both hammer and feather experience force from the moon's gravity proportional to their mass, and hence both accelerate at the same rate. Meanwhile, the moon is also accelerating towards the other two objects, but unevenly so: the ham
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mattcelt ( 454751 )
        I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I can't tell if your post is hyperbole or not.

        So straight up - does the hammer really hit the ground first? Replacing the hammer and feather with larger bodies - say, one (as the hammer's stand-in) which is the same mass as the moon, and the other (the feather's double) which is 1/10th the mass of the moon, it seems obvious that the more massive body will impact first, as it does have a significantly larger bearing on the moon.


        Does the hammer's insignificant
        • I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I can't tell if your post is hyperbole or not.

          The hammer would hit first assuming that the relevent section of the moon was perfectly spherical, but the effect is so miniscule that I doubt you could detect it with existing measuring devices. The effect would be largest when the hammer and feather are dropped from opposite sides of the moon (the hammer would pull the moon away from the feather, if they were close by they would both pull the moon towards the other but uneve
        • by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @09:15PM (#17452904) Homepage Journal
          I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I can't tell if your post is hyperbole or not.

          This is Slashdot. He was probably being completely serious.
      • The hammer is first to hit the ground.

        Only at temperatures above absolute zero. At absolute zero, inertial and gravitational mass are equal. Of course, as others have mentioned, we don't have instruments sensitive enough to see the difference even at normal (for us) temperatures.

    • Now I know its just because my atoms all have the same quantum state.

      You must be a real Boso [], then.

  • Magnetic Fluid (Score:5, Informative)

    by sporkme ( 983186 ) * on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:04PM (#17451766) Homepage
    4. Ferrofluids - magnetic fluids that can look spectacular. They're made from nanoscale magnetic particles suspended in a liquid. The spectacular sculpture in the video below is made using a ferrofluid and electromagnets.
    You can get this stuff from United Nuclear [] (about 2/3 of the way down the page, sorry no anchors), as well as some fun looking "super magnets" and some radioactive ores.

    When I read about the fluid that can flow up the sides of a container, all I could think about was THE BLOB!
    • by barry99705 ( 895337 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:09PM (#17452368)
      DO NOT!!! Put one of those magnets within two feet of the bottle of ferro fluid while the lid is off. That stuff stains paint, on the ceiling....
    • Wow, great link. Some of those really big magnets, the ones that say "THESE ARE DEFINATELY ___NOT___ TOYS DO NOT PUT THEM IN THE SAME ROOM AS ANY OTHER MAGNETS" look like absolutley fabulous toys!!
    • united nuclear also makes aerogel. that's an interesting material and it's a solid []

      • They don't make it, they sell it. The guy that runs United Nuclear works at Los Alamos, and has for years, and has contacts that get him some scraps that he can sell.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by scottv67 ( 731709 )
          They don't make it, they sell it. The guy that runs United Nuclear works at Los Alamos, and has for years, and has contacts that get him some scraps that he can sell.

          Bob Lazar used to work at Area 51. I'm sure he has contacts who can make practically anything. It's a safe bet that only the "tame" stuff shows up in the United Nuclear catalog...
          • God, I feel like a dope.. I didn't read the enough of the site and see the name Bob Lazar. My bullshit detector just went on high! Thanks for the update!
  • by Tx ( 96709 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:09PM (#17451812) Journal
    According to TFA, "To make a superfluid you must cool helium down to a couple of a degrees below zero - not one to try at home."

    Now I'm no physicist, but I'm pretty sure a couple of degrees below absolute zero isn't possible, and on any other scale I can think of, it's a bit warm for superfluids. I guess he meant "above zero", although a unit would still have been useful. Funnily enough, I was just bitching [] about scientific faux pas in the mainstream media, but New Scientist?
    • "Absolute" isnt a very good assumption when lacking a scale. As for what scale:

      "First one, then the other."
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by TheManifold ( 844766 )
      Did you know that the Editor of New Scientist is a biologist?

      Food for thought.
    • It's worth noting that this is a blog entry, not an edited article. Hence the blatant error.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Khashishi ( 775369 )
      It is possible to have negative temperatures under certain circumstances, using the thermodynamic definition of temperature, but these negative temperatures are actually hotter than any positive temperature. (Positive) absolute zero is still the coldest something can be, while negative absolute zero is the hottest anything can possibly be. Negative temperatures are only possible in a system where the number of quantum states available decreases as energy is added to the system.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Idarubicin ( 579475 )

      Funnily enough, I was just bitching about scientific faux pas in the mainstream media, but New Scientist?

      Dude, have you seen New Scientist lately? Their cover story a few months ago was a levitation device for flying cars. Which would have been great, if the basic operating principle weren't one that could have been debunked by a sharp high school student. Lo, behold the mighty EmDrive [].

      New Scientist's response [] is just embarrasing. From editor Jeremy Webb (emphasis added):

      "It is a fair criticism t

      • We should have made more explicit where it apparently contravenes the laws of nature

        Reminded me of this [] little classic.
  • by HMC CS Major ( 540987 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:13PM (#17451842) Homepage
    The simple liquid capable of making clothes come off, cars swerve, and random impregnation?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:26PM (#17451960)
      Funny you should say that as I read this today:

      "...Yesterday, government scientists suggested that men should take a look at their beer consumption, considering the results of a recent analysis that revealed the presence of female hormones in beer. The theory is that drinking beer makes men turn into women. To test the finding, 100 men were fed 6 pints of beer each. It was then observed that 100% of the men gained weight, talked excessively without making sense, became overly emotional, couldn't drive, failed to think rationally, argued over nothing, and refused to apologize when wrong. No further testing is planned..."
    • We're doing plenty of casual studies on it at my college.
  • It was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the demo of the people running over the water like that...
  • by EXMSFT ( 935404 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:26PM (#17451958)
    Really? Jesus!

    <sorry - had to do it.>
  • Slashdotted (Score:5, Informative)

    by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:30PM (#17451992) Homepage Journal
    Unfortunately, it does not include the mysterious liquid that prevents servers from being slashdotted.

    Coral cache link []
    • I looked for the "slashdotted" tag and found none so I checked.
      Regardless, or irregardlesslyfulness if you want, it worked for me.
      How good is "newscientist" against /.ing?
  • Last of all, perhaps the best thing is that it's not that hard to get hold of - search online and you'll see.

    Forget going online. Chances are you can pick it up at your local grocery store. It's been a mainstay at Halloween parties for years: Punch bowl + block of dry ice = foggy punch.

    • It's also used to ship perishables. I ordered some sticky buns from pepperidge farms - bake and eat type - and they came in a styrofoam cooler (recycled) with a big chunk of dry ice (played with in the driveway - muddy puddles look pretty amazingly gross with dry ice in them.)
  • by spaceramblings ( 1046582 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:38PM (#17452078) Homepage
    and go looking for 'that boy'?
  • I notice they didn't mention the goop left on my keyboard after I'm gone from home for long weekend. My roommate doesn't seem to know what it is either...
  • Pull it, make it longer, it gets bigger... Hmm. I think there would be a big market in the sex toy industry for "devices" made from Auxetic materials (
  • They forgot Aerogel (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:46PM (#17452144)
    Aerogel [] is a low-density solid-state material derived from gel in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with gas. The result is an extremely low density solid with several remarkable properties, most notably its effectiveness as an insulator. It is nicknamed frozen smoke, solid smoke or blue smoke due to its semi-transparent nature and the way light scatters in the material; however, it feels like extruded polystyrene to the touch.
    • There was even a version saturated with helium that could float in gas. Granted, it was on CO2 or Ar.
  • by tha_rippa1be ( 1045068 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:47PM (#17452152)
    At the end of this video there is a short part about the fluid going upwards. ages/Presentation%20film.html []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:48PM (#17452164)
    They left out elastic fluids, such as a mixture of high molecular weight polyethylene oxide in water. Once the fluid begins to pour out of its container, it will partially empty the container, even if righted. This is the open siphon effect. If while pouring out the fluid, you cut it with scissors, the fluid will snap back into the beaker like a rubber band. This can all be done at room temperature.

    What makes this happen is the high molecular weight polyer. The molecules become entangled, and when poured, they pull each other along, resulting in the emptying of the container.

    These fluids also exhibit other interesting behaviours, such as the Weissenberg effect, where when rotating rod is placed in the fluid, the fluid climbs up the rod. Also, add some particles (or bubbles), start stirring, then suddently remove the stirring rod, you will see the fluid snap back when it comes to rest.
  • Alas, Taco Bell was left off the list again, coming in at number six.
    • by Kelson ( 129150 ) *
      Alas, Taco Bell was left off the list again, coming in at number six.

      And yet there are seven layers in their burritos. We've accounted for six, but what's the seventh? Please, someone fund this vital research!

  • by Gat0r30y ( 957941 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:56PM (#17452244) Homepage Journal
    Funny note: as i was looking for the thermodynamic properties of plutonium, ebay promised to make me a great offer on it. Seriously, like ice it will expand and get less dense as it drops in temperature. Only, instead of just the one phase change, there are many. Unfortunately, this [] is the best I can find for a phase diagram. In thermo, my prof put up a much nicer one, just trust, the phase diagram is pretty crazy looking.
  • When I was a kid I had a book called "Scientific Experiments You Can Eat." I seem to remember there being something like the "Oobleck" in there.

    I'd love to try it out, but I get the feeling my wife would kill me if I started cooking up stuff like that in the kitchen...

  • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @08:05PM (#17452324)
    ... you have to mix the non-newtonian fluid pretty accurately - too thin and it won't support you, too thick and it's trivial... you'll notice they have a stirrer of some sort in the pool video - this is important - this stuff can settle in short time so you end up with mostly water above and mostly cornstarch below. Jearl Walker once lept over tables into a feed trough full of this stufff on his show. He didn't splash a drop. He did, however lose his balance, and tipped the whole thing which slowly flowed into the audience...

    And they mention conrflour - I'd stick with cornstarch. One time going France and Hungary to teach science, I figured I'd forego the big containers of white powder on the international flights... and getting to Nice, I found that you can only buy boxes of cornflour, not boxes of cornstarch in French grocery stores. You could get sugar-packet sized envelopes of it, which were labeled in French with something I could not read but I imagine said "You are in France. We are famous of our sauces. If you need cornstarch to make a sauce, then go away!."

  • Aerogel (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Coppit ( 2441 )
    I always thought aerogel [] was some pretty cool stuff. If you insulated your house with it, you would only need one candle to keep the entire house warm. :)

  • Ummm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @09:09PM (#17452862)
    LSD is a pretty strange material.

    Hey! Who moved the submit button? And what are all these ponies doing here?

    • LSD is a pretty strange material.

      Anything that makes the concrete sidewalk light up under my feet like I'm in Saturday Night Fever is a pretty strange material indeed. Oh, the pretty colors. Fsck the aerogel, it can't do that.

      People talk about it like it's addictive. It's addictive like chocolate, not like nicotine or heroin: the only thing I miss is beautiful colors, more saturated and gorgeous than your eyes are capable of seeing, sort of like how chocolate is more rich and beautiful than your tasteb

      • Ponies? No. Actual hallucinations will be more along the lines of colors which change with the sounds that you hear, and they'll follow outlines of things your eyes are seeing. (ie. sidewalk squares, each lighting up a different color; swirls and "lightning bolts" coming out of small objects in dark-colored contrasting fields, etc.)

        Well, there are times when those "visually enhanced" elements can take on a life of their own. It all depends on what's in one's subconscious. Generally I don't have many visual effects from acid, more distortions of the body and physical sensations. Some people get all kinds of strange visuals, though. But you are correct, LSD is a quite benign substance which is demonized far beyond its effects.

        Also, I was writing at the time, so there's no need to assume the ponies were visual, they could have been tex

        • I've always wanted to try it, but one of the problems (other than being able to find the good stuff) is the chaperone. None of my friends are anywhere nearly big and strong enough to restrain me. I'd be the perfect chaperone for THEM, though. Oh well.
  • What about LCDs of metamaterial [] crystals? Any way to use their refraction for multidimensional, or just higher efficiency, light modulation? What about a liquid metamaterial suspending optically normal crystals?
  • Even common, everyday stuff can have interesting properties. You can suspend liquid oxygen in a strong magnetic field, for instance, because it's a paramagnetic element. Of course, one could argue that _liquid_ oxygen isn't really an everyday material.
  • 1. Dilatants (Score:3, Interesting)

    by _newwave_ ( 265061 ) <slashdot@paulwaA ... inus threevowels> on Thursday January 04, 2007 @02:11AM (#17455034)

    fluids that get more solid when stressed. The classic example is a mixture of cornflour and water - it's runny until you hit it when it becomes solid.

    I remember playing with this mixture in grade school and since then I have always wondered why materials like this could not be used to make protective/bullet proof armor. Could someone explain this to me?

  • Tigers are classified as liquids.

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's