A while ago we personified the nebulous concept of physics and wrote an article about 10 objects we feel were seemingly invented just to annoy it. Join us today as we discuss another 10 inventions that thumb their nose at physics and slaps its friend science right in the chops.
10. Vantablack – AKA super-black paint
Vantablack is, to put it simply, a man-made substance that absorbs over 99% of the visible light that touches it, making anything coated in it look like a hole in space-time. Like all cool future stuff, Vantablack is made using carbon nanotubes and has numerous theoretical applications, such as coating the inside of space-telescopes and potentially being used to create skinny jeans that never fade.
3D objects coated in Vantablack absorb so much light that it’s largely impossible to make out any surface detail on any object covered in it. As a result, most objects coated Vantablack look 2D. So for example, a mannequin coated in the substance would look like a free-standing shadow you could manipulate with your bare hands, or alternatively, a secret character you’ve not yet unlocked.
Amazingly, Vantablack is so black that most people’s eyes have trouble adjusting to what they’re seeing and some people simply cannot deal with looking at an object coated in it for any length of time, admitting that it simply looks “wrong.” Sadly, Vantablack is rather expensive, which means our dream of doing donuts in a car covered in it will remain just that.
9. Graphene Aerogel – AKA a material lighter than your farts
Aerogel is the name of a subset of synthetic materials that can be made from a variety of base ingredients. Incredibly light and a fantastic insulating material, a piece of aerogel weighing less than a feather could protect your hand from the heat of a blowtorch indefinitely, and a regular adult male could easily lift a piece bigger than a house without trying… or a piece as big as two houses while only trying a little if girls were watching.
Seemingly just to show they could, Chinese scientists recently created graphene aerogel, which is literally lighter than air itself. So light is this new form of aerogel that a cubic meter of it would weigh just 5 ounces and a reasonably sized block can rest effortlessly on a single blade of grass without bending it.
As an insulating material that weighs virtually nothing there’s a lot of interest from scientists to use aerogel as a space-age insulator for rockets, though personally we’d prefer duvets that rise 3 feet in the air when we fart too hard.
8. Programmable Ferrofluid – AKA the T-1000’s granddaddy
In the simplest sense, Ferrofluid is just nanoscopic iron fragments suspended in oil. While this doesn’t sound all that complicated, with careful manipulation of magnetic fields it’s possible to “program” ferrofluid to perform rudimentary actions or even take on specific shapes. The actual uses of ferrofluids are limited with most applications being theoretical in nature, such as using it as a rocket fuel in a zero gravity environment. As a result, the primary use of most ferrofluids is to demonstrate what exactly a ferrofluid is, usually by manipulating it ever more intricate and elaborate ways using magnetic fields.
You could say that this is a waste of a frankly marvelous creation, but tell us you wouldn’t pay good money to see someone program a pool of ferrofluid to assume the form of Robert Patrick’s face for just a second before turning into a giant, revolving steel middle finger as the Terminator theme played on a boombox.
7. Anechoic Chambers – AKA the room where sound is measure in negative decibels
Anechoic chambers are special rooms designed to absorb as much sound as possible, making them totally and utterly silent. In fact, anechoic chambers are so quiet that the ambient noise level inside them is measured in negative decibels. How is this possible, you ask? Well, 0 decibels, contrary to common wisdom, doesn’t mean something is silent, it just means it doesn’t make enough noise for a human ear to detect. In other words, 0 decibels is the limit at which sounds become wholly imperceptible to the average human. For anyone interested, you can read a more comprehensive and science-y overview here. Due to the way anechoic chambers are constructed there is no ambient noise whatsoever, making them useful for testing exactly how loud given products are or allowing astronauts to adjust to the silence of space.
Speaking of which, few people can physically stand in an anechoic chamber for more than a few minutes at a time due to the fact it allows you to hear things like the sound of your own heart beating, or your eyeballs scratching the inside of your skull as you move around. This understandably makes many people uncomfortable to the point even people who work with anechoic chambers on a daily basis refuse to physically step inside them lest the sound of their own bones straining under gravity drives them mad.
6. Non-Newtonian Fluids – AKA punch-proof liquids
Non-Newtonian fluids are, as their name suggest, fluids that don’t obey the traditionally established rules physics; specifically, Newton’s law of Viscosity. In a nutshell, most well-known non-Newtonian fluids like Oobleck (a substance commonly made from cornstarch and water) become more viscous and harden when a direct physical force is exerted upon them. In practice this results in a fluid that near-instantly repels physical damage by hardening like a rock in response to extreme trauma, like the creature from The Thing or the Symbiote from Spider-Man. In short, it’s a liquid that would break your hand if you tried to punch it.
The practical applications of non-Newtonian fluids are admittedly limited, but a potential use would be body armor that instantly hardens upon being shot but remains malleable during everyday wear. A problem, however, is that if too much force is applied to a non-Newtonian fluid it shatters like glass before melting into a big pool of goop, meaning a person wearing body armor made of it could potentially have their organs skewered by hypersonic shards of mystery fluid if they were hit by a car or something. Which, as you can imagine, isn’t ideal.
5. Prince Rupert’s Drops – AKA naturally formed bulletproof glass
Prince Rupert’s Drops are curious, tadpole-looking pieces of glass that display an unusual property in that the tail end is almost shockingly sensitive. So much so that that the lightest touch can cause it to explode like a tiny tadpole-shaped grenade. In contrast, the “head” of the drop is virtually indestructible, being able to shrug off most forms of damage including hits from a sledgehammer and bullets.
Largely considered a scientific curiosity more than anything, Prince Rupert’s Drops are made by dripping molten glass into cold water, and they serve no real purpose beyond being kind of cool to watch explode. For anyone curious about how they work, as the molten center of the “head” of the drop cools, it draws the already solidified outer layer inward, hardening itself considerably and turning the drop into a natural kind of tempered glass. The whole thing is in a delicate state of flux with both extreme tensile and compressive stress being in near perfect balance inside the drop. This balance is near-impossible to upset with physical force to the drop’s head but can be effortlessly displaced by little more than a gentle tap to the tail. Meaning while one end is literally bulletproof, the other can’t survive being hit with by a Nerf gun.
4. BAM – AKA a material more slippery than a non-stick frying pan and harder than diamond
BAM is a material created entirely by accident in the late 1990s. Tougher than a diamond plated T-Rex skull and nearly impossible to cut, polish, or shape in any way, BAM was created by combining boron, aluminum, and magnesium with titanium boride. The original intention behind BAM was to create a material that generated electricity when it was exposed to heat; instead they created a material that is simultaneously harder than diamond and more slippery than Teflon.
There are countless possibly applications for BAM, though the most exciting would be an “eternal lubricant” for machinery that provided an everlasting non-stick surface that never wore away. As the coefficient of friction for BAM is only marginally worse than lubricated steel, it could theoretically be used in motors to provide a permanently lubricated surface. This is because, for reasons experts can’t quite explain, BAM continually replenishes its own non-stick surface, meaning a gear or joint made with it would never need to be lubricated. Outside of the energy industry (where it’s estimated BAM could save hundreds of millions of dollars per year) it has more mundane applications in home appliances where it could be used to create non-stick pans that never scratch or cars that bird poop slides right off of.
3. Superabsorbent Polymers – AKA magic water-drinking balls of plastic
Superabsorbent polymers are an unusual material capable of absorbing their weight in water a hundred times over and then some. This property allows clear polymer crystals that absorb exactly the right amount of liquid to take on the same index of refraction as pure water. In lay terms this means that upon being placed into water they totally disappear.
Due to their ability to absorb water almost infinitely (a pound of these things can absorb like 50 gallons of water) superabsorbent polymers are used extensively by the diaper and sanitary towel industry to create lightweight products that can absorb a substantial amount of liquid while remaining bone-dry to the touch.
More frivolously, they can be used to make people believe you’re some kind of wizard due to their afforemention ability to instantly disappear the moment they’re submerged in water. While this ability is admittedly less impressive than the ability to absorb its weight in water a hundred times over from a physics standpoint, theoretically if you filled a pool with these things you could moonwalk across the surface dressed like Michael Jackson, and you know what? That’s kind of awesome too.
2. LiquiGlide – AKA ketchup’s worst nightmare
LiquiGlide is essentially a hyper-non-stick coating so effective even the most viscous and sticky liquid cannot hope to cling to any surface covered in it. Described as having “limitless” potential applications by its inventor, the most visually impressive example of LiquiGlide in action arguably is among its most simple: a LiquiGlide treated ketchup bottle.
As the video above shows, when poured from a LiquiGlide-treated bottle, ketchup flies out like it’s possessed, leaving no residue whatsoever on the inside of the bottle itself. In addition to making it – to use the technical term – “piss-easy” to use every last drop of a bottle of ketchup, LiquiGlide could theoretically save consumers millions by reducing food waste and even help save the world by completely negating the need to clean packaging that has been recycled.
In a world where LiquiGlide is used in everyday products, common, eternally annoying problems like running out of mascara because it dried up and stuck to the inside of the bottle will be totally eliminated. Also, because LiquiGlide also non-toxic and cheap it could be theoretically used inside of anything. Jars of peanut butter you don’t need to scrape the inside of with a knife when they’re half finished, cans of paint that won’t stick to the inside of the lid, and tubes of toothpaste you can squeeze from the middle would all be a reality in a world where LiquiGlide is commonplace. So of course, nobody seems to want to pay to use it because we don’t deserve a world that perfect.
1. The Standard Kilogram – AKA the world’s roundest ball
Sitting in a vault somewhere under the watchful eye of labcoat-wearing scientist is a hunk of silicon so round and smooth that if you scaled it to the size of the Earth, its highest peak would only be about 30-feet high. Crafted from a single silicon crystal, the sphere is designed to be a replace a similar, but not as smooth, sphere of platinum used to define the kilogram.
As mundane as the ball looks, it cannot be overstated how impressive a feat of engineering this is. For starters, the silicon was purified in a Soviet centrifuge originally used to refine nuclear material before being artificially aged by a German meteorological institute to create a giant, 10-kilo hunk of material. Finally, the silicon was cut in half before each half was painstakingly smoothed, atom by atom, into a near-perfect sphere by a guy who spent his entire life making very round objects, who they dragged out of retirement, named Achim Leistner. Leistner calls the resulting orbs of silicon his “masterpieces” and due to their uniqueness, they’re considered to be priceless by the scientific community.
Understandably, each orb is kept under lock and key and few people are even allowed to see them, let alone touch them. Which is fair, because we know for a fact if we ever had a chance to touch one we’d coat it in Vantablack and roll it into Stephen Hawking’s office.