6 Mind-Blowing Substances That Laugh in the Face of Physics
We can laugh at our ancestors who thought gunpowder was sorcery, or rappers who don't understand what magnets are. But we're telling you right now, there are materials created by science that absolutely look like fucking witchcraft. These materials are often hard to get and/or incredibly dangerous, but they're worth it for the cool factor alone.
Gallium, the Metal That Melts in Your Hand
Sure, everybody knows there's such a thing as liquid metal (mercury, duh) and that all metal will melt if you get it hot enough. What you presumably have not run into is solid metal that will melt in your hand like ice cream. But all you need to do is find some gallium, the awesome metal that, when warmed up just a little, becomes a non-murderous version of Robert Patrick in Terminator 2.
Gallium melts at just past room temperature, so it isn't very useful for building anything, unless that thing is intended to be both short-lived and hilarious. But it can make for a neat party trick when you, for instance, stir hot liquid with a gallium spoon and watch it dissolve before your eyes.
There is no spoon.
Wait, it gets weirder. For some reason, gallium doesn't play well with aluminum, by which we mean it reduces a Coke can to tissue paper:
Just dab a little drop on the top of a can ...
... and it will make the entire area around it brittle. You can shove your finger through it ...
"Now you can open beer cans with the same ease of gouging out the eyes of those who would defy you!"
... and easily pull it apart, tearing the pieces to chunks like the whole thing was made of flower petals:
"A little more work, and this can could be a Fleshlight."
There are videos on YouTube of people wrecking aluminum objects like computer heat sinks with a splash of gallium and being amazed at how they can crush formerly solid objects like a handful of crackers. We can think of much better pranks, like dribbling some onto our neighbor's bicycle before he takes it out onto the freeway, but that's probably why the law says that we're not allowed near chemicals.
The Gas That's Heavy Enough to Float Solid Objects
Saying that a substance is "heavier than air" doesn't sound too exciting, until you see the borderline terrifying shit sulfur hexafluoride can do. For instance, most of us have, at some point, huffed on a helium balloon so that we can pretend we're the Chipmunks and make them say swear words. But helium isn't the only substance that will mess with your vocal range. Sulfur hexafluoride is helium's evil twin, like Bizarro is to Superman, or Lady Gaga is to Madonna. Huff a balloon full of this stuff and your voice will take on an ominous baritone, as demonstrated hilariously by Kelly Ripa and Neil Patrick Harris:
This happens precisely because sulphur hexafluoride is several times heavier than regular air, so it lowers the frequency of any sound passing through it, which is exactly how helium works, except, you know, in reverse. But once you know that the stuff is heavier than air, you can start to do really cool things with it. For instance, if poured into a glass, sulfur hexafluoride sinks through normal air and pools invisibly at the bottom of the container. Just like water, it can support the weight of less dense objects on top of it.
Putting us one step closer to a fart-powered hovercraft.
Like a boat made of aluminum foil, which will levitate in midair as if by magic:
Now watch as the guy takes a glass, scoops up the nothing that the boat is floating on ...
If you squint, you can see a tiny toothpick Leonardo DiCaprio drawing Kate Winslet.
... pours the nothing into the foil boat ...
... and makes it float gently to the bottom of the nothing, due to the weight of the nothing.
Rock-biter, you failed us yet again.
Hydrophobic (Water-Repelling) Surfaces
This is another one that sounds unspectacular until you see it in action. For instance, above is not a slab of lime Jell-O or green rock candy. That's green-colored water, sitting on a slab of glass. You can splash it around with your finger ...
"Mr. Jensen, will you please jab your finger into this creepy, unknown green substance so we can see what happens?"
... but it will return to that perfect square shape above. That's because the dry area around the edge has been treated with a hydrophobic coating, meaning it repels water so hard that droplets actually arch away from it. There is a perfect untreated square in the middle, and the water piles up there. Put a droplet out on the treated part, and it will actively flee to the untreated area.
Like an Irish T-1000.
If you coat your finger in the stuff, you can dip it into a jar of water and not only will your finger stay completely dry, but the substance will form a bubble around it like a tiny condom -- the result of the water desperately trying to get away from you.
The idea behind these chemicals is to create a line of waterproof and stain-proof coatings for clothes, windshields, you name it. But we just wish we had some of the stuff to play with. Here's some hydrophobic sand in action:
Hold a spoon under water, pour the sand into the water, and catch it with the spoon ...
Not the melting spoon we showed you before, though.
... and then lift out a spoon of perfectly dry sand:
"Just try and make a sand castle out of this, you little shits!"
Spontaneously Exploding Powder
Nitrogen triiodide looks kind of like a clump of dirt, but you shouldn't use it in your garden unless you're super hardcore. As you can see in the above pictures, the stuff is so unstable that touching it with a feather is enough to make it go off with an ear-shattering bang:
So what is it used for? Well, practically nothing, besides the occasional ill-advised prank. It is so unstable that moving it around is as risky as eating a 12-pack of Doritos Locos Tacos and doing squats in the gym -- you'll note that all of the Internet videos demonstrating the "explodes at the touch of a feather" thing all have the feather tied to the end of a long stick.
"Hell no, I'm not moving it! Get one of the interns to do it."
Oh, and for style points, it gives off a cool purple cloud when it explodes.
This is how Prince exits every room now.
A similar substance is fulminating silver, which in very small amounts is what makes POP-ITS explode. Because seriously, what better use could you put it to than to make the most annoying toy possible? If you're looking for something more spectacular than the world's shittiest fireworks, fulminating silver is also the stuff that Walt uses to blow up a drug lord's lair in the first season of Breaking Bad.
"Let me demonstrate how dangerous this bag of highly unstable explosives is by detonating a piece right next to it!"
While this is fiction, some science people have analyzed this scene and concluded, yep, that's pretty much the scale of what would happen if you threw down a nugget of that size. The only quibble they have with the scenario is that Walt couldn't possibly have survived the journey to the building while carrying it.
Hot ice, scientifically known as sodium acetate, is a liquid that will turn solid at the slightest provocation. Touching it with your finger, bumping it too hard, or speaking a few angry words will cause it to spring from a clear, water-like state into solid ice-like crystals.
This process allows for the creation of instantaneous ice sculptures or for convincing your dinner guests that you are Mr. Freeze. For instance, you can just pour the stuff in its liquid form into a container ...
... touch it with your finger, or dick, if you prefer ...
Depending on how much you bet your friends.
... and watch "ice" crystals race across the surface in every direction, until the whole container has "frozen" in just a few seconds.
The best science is always inspired by Vonnegut doomsday devices.
What's forming is not actually ice, of course. As the name suggests, it's warm to the touch, just to mess with your brain a little more. The chemical is used in hand warmers to ensure that your hands don't freeze and fall off while you're handling normal, non-crazy ice.
"Smooth move, Brian. How the hell are you going to get it out of there now?!"
So how does this process actually work? What happens is that sodium acetate is cooled down really slowly and tricked into getting colder than the point at which it should freeze. When you agitate it too much, it realizes that it has been tricked and the particles freak out and solidify. We should also note that this is the first item on the list that you can reasonably make at home, though we take no responsibility for when you find a way to explode your house with it.
Metal With Memory
No, that sequence of pictures is not reversed -- pouring hot water on that twisty lump of wire did, in fact, make it spell out the word "HOT."
That's nitinol, an alloy of nickel and titanium that has the impressive ability to "remember" its original shape after you've gone and bent the crap out of it. All it takes is a little heat, like running warm water over it, and no matter how badly you've twisted and contorted it, the "memory metal" will spring right back into the shape it's supposed to be:
It may not seem like there are terribly many applications for this unless you're Uri Geller and you need some spoons that will bend without touching them. But engineers are developing a whole host of applications for memory metal, like eyeglasses that can be fixed right up again if they get bent out of shape, so it doesn't matter how many times your nerdy kid gets punched in the face by bullies.
We have no idea if they'll ever be able to make, for instance, cars that just bend themselves back into shape after an accident. All we know is that every video of this shit looks like they've just run it in reverse:
For instance, that guy takes a perfectly good spring made of this stuff ...
... completely fucks it up by twisting it in every direction ...
"Kill ... me ..."
... and shoots it with a blow dryer ...
... until it completely heals itself in seconds:
"Now let's use this stuff to replace the skeleton of an unstable, sociopathic mutant, right before we betray him."
Are we crazy, or could you not take all of the materials on this list and, with no other skills, become a pretty successful magician?
For more materials that just cannot be real, check out 7 Man-Made Substances that Laugh in the Face of Physics and 6 Man-Made Materials You Won't Believe Exist.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Hilarious Moments of Animals Ruining a Sporting Event.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover which columnist has a symbiotic spider suit.
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