5 Man-Made Substances That Are Way Too Much Like Witchcraft
All of the substances on this list could, if transported back to some previous era, probably get you convicted of witchcraft. Hell, they kind of seem like witchcraft now. But, no, they're merely fascinating oddities of physics and chemistry. Which is exactly what a witch would say, but whatever.
Glass Droplets That Are Stronger Than Steel ... Until They Explode
Here's a fascinating fact straight from the weird world of chemistry. Imagine you take some glass and hold a flame over it until some of it drips into a beaker of water. It will instantly cool and solidify into a teardrop-shaped glass droplet. That drop, the thick part of the glass, is one of the strongest substances known to man. You can hammer the shit out of it and it will just sit there, silently mocking you.
Think of it like a teeny, tiny version of your disapproving father.
So why don't we make just, like, everything out of this stuff? Because it has one massive weakness. It's that tail on the end of it -- if you snap the thinnest part with pliers or cutters or even with your fingers, the entire thing will just goddamn explode.
Suddenly the two-meter exhaust port on the Death Star doesn't seem quite so unrealistic.
That is called a Prince Rupert's Drop. The pent-up explosive force is due to the cooling process. The molten glass shrinks when it cools, but when dipped in water, the outer layer solidifies first. The inner core then tries to shrink, but can't -- so it is locked in a perpetual state of pulling in on itself. You can't break the bulb part; you're just applying force in the direction it's already pulling. But, barely flick it at the weak end and you'll set off a chain reaction that will cause it to vaporize in a fraction of a second, instantly releasing all of the forces that have been pent up since its creation. Yeah, you'll want eye protection:
Like discovering masturbation all over again.
The Blackest Substance That Exists
In 2014, scientists created the blackest thing known to humankind. It's so black that while what we're about to show you will give you a small taste of its blackness, the reality is that you'd have to see it in person to get the full effect, because your monitor has no way to convey black on this level. It's so black, you can't even accurately imagine how black it is. Allow us to introduce Vantablack, the blackest black thing known to exist. Shine a light on it, and this shit just swallows it:
The color of every goth's wet dream.
Vantablack is a material made from carbon nanotubes, and is an acronym for "Vertically Aligned NanoTube Array ... Black." The substance has a light absorption of 0.035 percent, meaning that you can take a photo of it and whatever you've coated in it will look like a silhouette you've cut out in Photoshop. It's so black that contours are utterly invisible; if you coat one side of a sculpture with it, it looks like you've literally removed half of reality from the fabric of existence:
Presenting the only instance of blackface looking cool in 2016.
The secret is that carbon nanotubes are so tiny (about three atoms thick) that growing a whole forest of them traps incoming light like a labyrinth for photons. Shine a spotlight at it, and all that light winds up bouncing around until it gives up and gets absorbed into the material, so nothing comes back to hit your eyes.
We're one step away from creating Looney Tunes physics.
It sounds like a lot of effort to go through to make something that's just super, super black, but the creators -- Surrey NanoSystems in England -- admit that the darkness of the material isn't its most important feature (you can't make a ninja costume out of it, for example, because it'll stand out from the shadows -- it's just too black). The big thing is that it's 10 times stronger than steel and better at absorbing heat than any other known material.
Still, the people most interested in this technology right now are artists, and the art community is frustrated that the company is being extremely tight-fisted about who it actually allows to use the stuff -- right now, they've only granted permission to sculptor Anish Kapoor and Lynx Body Spray (the UK version of Axe) for a weird commercial campaign they did in 2015. That is not a joke:
We've written before about hydrophobic substances -- literally, materials that don't get wet. You can throw a bucket of water on them and it'll all just bounce off like bullets against Superman's eyeball. These usually take the form of sprays used to treat fabrics, but the problem is that they tend to flake off shortly after application, making them useful for trippy YouTube videos but basically nothing else. But now, we have this:
It's been five minutes; the GIF isn't changing.
Some scientists at the University of Rochester have made a metal that is superhydrophobic, meaning it'll repel water drops like basketballs and it'll never wear off. Watch it bounce!
More spring than a twerking competition held in a bouncy castle at a low rider convention.
How do they do it? They use powerful lasers to cut tiny grooves into the surface of the metal in a particular pattern known only to science wizards. They didn't need to discover this magic by trial and error -- they basically copied the leaves of lotus plants, which already evolved to have the same properties.
Annnnnd now you want gummy bears.
As cool as it looks, there are also plenty of every day applications that are just begging for this. Imagine a windshield with these properties. Or a toilet bowl that your wet curry poops just bounce off instead of leaving a sticky splat of regret. If you think we're just being gross, you should know that's one of the first uses the scientists mention. A hydrophobic toilet needs little or no water to flush -- waste just bounces down the pipe. Science!
Super-Thin, Super-Strong, Hydrogel
Polymer hydrogels are substances that are mostly water (up to 90 percent) but are held together with enough rubbery compound to make them stretchy. Think of a consistency somewhere between cling wrap and that strawberry-scented body wash you use in the shower. Generally, they're gooey but aren't much in the stress resistance department -- unless you're talking about the super-tough hydrogel invented by Zhigang Suo and his colleagues at Harvard.
"I lost too many games of Thin Ice as a child."
What you're seeing is a large, solid metal ball bouncing, trampoline-like, off what is essentially a soap bubble. At the very least, you can use it to frustrate kids at birthday parties.
According to the engineers who synthesized it, it's the result of a specific combination of polyacrylamide and alginate, which are two words that absolutely make sense to certified chemical engineers, and you can stretch it up to 20 times its original length without breaking it. Despite the fact that it's so thin as to be nearly invisible, according to Suo, it's so tough that you can't break it with your hands.
The scientists admit that hydrogels "have few practical applications at the moment," but they predict that this material could be used in soundproofing, TV and smartphone screens, or just making weird looking stereo speakers.
Or, stretch it across somebody's front door and watch them bounce off it when they try to walk in.
One-Way Bulletproof Glass
Bulletproof glass has been a necessary innovation for as long as things have existed that have windows and which contain things that bad people want to shoot to death. Regular bulletproof glass is made from normal glass sandwiching a layer of polycarbonate thermoplastic, which is why the glass will still crack to pieces, but stay intact and not let the bullet through (hopefully).
The problem, of course, is that this goes both ways. Sure, the assassination target is safe inside the limo, but what if he's the proactive type, and wants to whip out his own gun to shoot back? He'd need some kind of magic substance that lets him shoot out, but won't let bad guy shoot in. Well, a security company called Armour Group has invented RhinoGLASS -- a type of glass that blocks bullets from the outside, but allows bullets from the other side to go through more or less without resistance.
And through attackers more or less without resistance too.
Basically, the glass is coated on one surface with a hard layer of thermoplastic. A bullet fired from the outside will hit the hard layer first, and the soft layer will act as a shock absorber. The bullet fractures and slows, or stops altogether. But if you shoot it from the other side, the bullet goes through the softer section first, piercing it, then hits the hard layer which has nothing bracing it from the other side ...
... so it can shatter it and kill the evildoers. Or the good guys; we guess you could be a dictator getting shot at by freedom fighters or something.
This isn't a one-use thing, either -- as long as they're not hitting the exact same spot over and over, the glass can be riddled with bullets from both sides, and still continue to work. For a while anyway. But, honestly, if you haven't shot the assassins by then, it's really your own fault.
Ready for more witchcraft? Then check out 6 Mind-Blowing Substances That Laugh In The Face Of Physics and 6 Substances That Wipe Their Ass With The Laws Of Physics.
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