Nano and smart materials are all the rage. Material scientists have been rubbing their hands at the new breeds of amazing materials they’ve been able to create recently. Of course, these materials only seem to defy the laws of physics rather than break or violate them. That’s because obviously we can only ever create anything within the laws of physics. However, some amazing materials have genuinely changed the way we think about the physics of materials and their properties.
10) Terminator Polymer
Cut this polymer with a razor blade and it will glue itself back together in a matter of hours!
Ok, so it doesn’t exactly move back into form on its own – you have to push the pieces together. Still, give it a while and it’ll feel like it’s never been cut.
Dubbed the ‘terminator polymer’, this amazing material is aptly named after the self-healing materials seen in the ‘Terminator’ movies. Material designers have always sought a strong, hard, and versatile material that can fix itself on its own. But before this material was created, self-healing plastics would need a stimulus in order to instigate the healing process. For example, certain plastics would repair themselves when you apply heat to them.
Contrastingly, this plastic self-heals at room temperature and does so spontaneously with 97% efficiency – meaning 97% of severed bonds will actually repair. This is achievable through the use of aromatic disulfides which react and bond at normal temperatures.
9) Hydrophobic Materials
You may have used waterproof spray on a tent or on your shoes or boots. But then, when it really buckets it down, it tends to fail pretty quickly! Creating waterproof sprays is no easy task but it’s a lucrative business. Neverwet has made the first stab at dominating this market with a superhydrophobic sprayable coating that can waterproof almost anything to a depth of a few feet.
Not only can it waterproof all manner of items, it also protects them against corrosion and is functional under extreme heat or cold. Neverwet adheres to almost anything. It’s widely available for a whole host of industrial and practical applications.
Another liquid problem solved with smart materials is getting those dribs and drabs out of a sauce bottle. Scraping the inside of a glass bottle or container for the very last drips is frustrating and wasteful. The solution? Coat the inside of the bottle with a smart frictionless material that allows the contents to just slide out freely.
These liquids could also reduce friction in oil, water, or gas pipes to prevent clogging. The only downside is that you might end up emptying half a pot of mayo onto your dinner!
Gallium is one of only four metals that are present as liquids at temperatures near-room temperature.
The others are mercury, rubidium and cesium and their most familiar use is in thermometers. Gallium is a beautiful metal – it’s soft and silvery and has a melting point of just 29.8°C, meaning it will easily melt in your hand.
It boils at 2229°C, which is quite high – there’s a massive gap between its melting and boiling points when contrastingly, mercury boils at just 356.7 degrees celsius. Unlike mercury, gallium is perfectly safe, meaning you can handle it without worry. This also means it’s occasionally used as a replacement for mercury in medical thermometers. Gallium is also alloyed with other metals to create brilliantly bright mirrors. It just goes to show that even the elements of the periodic table have seemingly strange properties on their own!
7) Smart Bendable Wood
Wood will always be a premier building material due to its beautiful aesthetic qualities and versatility. Generally, wood is rigid but now, bendable wood allows us to flex wooden structures into spaces to create stunning interiors that are durable and possess extraordinary sound-absorption properties. Dukta is one such company pioneering bendable wood that possesses strength with amazing flexibility.
Because of Dukta’s density combined with its layered form, it’s an awesome heat and sound insulator. This wood is manufactured from either particulated wood blends that are mixed with flexible glues or from carefully adhering flexible wood sheets in patterns that allow for flexibility.
Have you ever considered how some blacks look much, much darker than others? One of the darkest places on Earth might be inside a deep cave. But now, we can view super-dark blacks above the earth’s surface. The blackness of a color is determined by how much light it absorbs and thus, how little reflects back into our eye. The more light absorbed by a colored surface, the darker it will be. Even very deep blacks reflect some light, though. It’s theorized that a black hole is one of the only objects in the universe that lacks any light at all. Obviously, the darkness of a black hole isn’t readily observable but Vantablack gets pretty close!
Vantablack is a black so dark that it looks like how you’d imagine a black hole would look – there is no reflection, no color, just nothing but darkness. Even on computer screens, it looks rather strange – much darker than the blacks we’re used to seeing. This black is made from very densely packed carbon nanotubes and it absorbs a massive 99.96% of all visible light.
The artist Anish Kapoor famously seized exclusive rights to the original Vantablack color but the recently created Vantablack 2.0 is even darker.
Smart materials in cans – it’s a big theme in the 21st century. Line-x’s spray paint offers a method of making virtually any object far more durable by simply coating it in a spray.
Once sprayed, Line-x forms long polymers that bind to the surface of the object, encasing it in solid plastic. You can use Line-x to prevent the splintering of plastic car parts. You can also spray it on other surfaces to help them absorb shock and prevent shattering and splintering. Line-x is used on the walls of the Pentagon to reduce the chance of shrapnel penetrating the building in the event of an attack.
Line-x’s ability to strengthen fragile objects has been demonstrated with plastic cups that can withstand a human’s weight after being sprayed.
Eggs coated in Line-x can even withstand drops from great heights. The uses of this amazing material are pretty unlimited – anything which is prone to shattering, cracking or splintering is easily strengthened with line-x. It’s also incredibly hard-wearing and weatherproof to boot.
4) Super Cooled Rubidium
So here’s a material which really does seem to defy physics – specifically Newton’s second law of motion. Newton’s second law says a force is equal to the mass of an object multiplied by its acceleration. These forces are exhibited in the direction you expect – so, for example, when you push a door, it opens outwards in front of you. Supercooled rubidium, created by cooling rubidium to near absolute zero, reverses Newton’s second law.
When you exhibit a force on super-cooled rubidium, it seems to actually push the opposite way. The physicists themselves were baffled; “It’s very counterintuitive and weird,” said Jon Butterworth at UCL London.
Others suggest that the analogy some use to describe this effect is a bit off. Whilst supercooled rubidium does seem to behave like a material with negative mass, the atoms don’t literally weigh less than 0.
Some advanced hydrogels are mechanical metamaterials which flow like liquids, meaning they can be poured into cavities. It then solidifies whilst remaining highly absorbent.
The primary use of hydrogel is in medicine. Hydrogels can be inserted into wounds and then drugs can be absorbed into them. Some hydrogels are made from long-strand polymers, but the very latest have been created organically from DNA. One highlighted potential use of hydrogels is to deliver drugs to areas where tumors have been removed but cancer cells remain in the surrounding tissues.
Hydrogels would conform to the cavity and anti-cancer drugs could be delivered to surrounding specifically-affected tissues.
Starlite is by far the most mysterious material on this list. Firstly, it wasn’t produced by any scientist but instead by an amateur inventor named Maurice Ward who was a forklift driver and ladies hairdresser from Blackburn, UK. Ward claimed to have invented an amazing material that could insulate anything from extremely high heats.
In fact, some tests claimed that Starlite could withstand temperatures of over 10,000 degrees celsius. Ward essentially cooked this up in his own house and used it in his hairdressing business before realizing quite how effective it was. After mailing top chemical companies with requests to demonstrate the product, a BBC science program named ‘Tomorrow’s World in the 1970s’ finally invited him. The presenter famously blowtorched a raw egg for an amazing 5 minutes at 1500 degrees before demonstrating that it remained completely raw inside when cracked.
Ward’s material finally attracted attention and even the NASA spokesperson at the time seemingly verified the authenticity of Starlite “We have done a lot of evaluation and we know all the tremendous possibilities that this material has.”
Ward had achieved something that decades of intense research could not and his material would be incredibly useful in many industries. Rumors suggest that Starlite went ‘black’. That means it is safeguarded by governments to prevent it from being replicated. Starlite is so resistant to heat that it could safeguard objects from nuclear blasts. The truth is Starlite and its current status is still a bit of a mystery.
1. Aerogel and SF6 Gas
When aerogels were first developed in the 1960s they were seemingly strikingly defiant of traditional material physics with extremely low densities and extremely low thermal conductivity. They’re porous materials. They have the nickname ‘frozen smoke’ due to their rather ghostly appearance.
Aerogel is more of a foam than a solid. But it’s still capable of holding 3D shapes despite its remarkably low density. 150 brick-sized blocks of aerogel will only weigh as much as a gallon of water. The coolest property of aerogel is its heat-insulating properties. Experiments show how even a small sheet of aerogel can insulate something delicate like a flower from the heat of a flame.
Space agencies like NASA have used Aerogel as a super-light insulator. You can pack it into space suits or use it as cavity insulation for spacecraft.
Sulfur Hexafluoride, on the other hand, has a rather contrasting characteristic of being very dense for a gas – about 5 times denser than air.
It’s non-toxic and inert, meaning it acts freely as a gas-insulator for electronics. This also means you can safely breathe it from a balloon to observe the super-low pitch of your voice created by the gasses’ high density.
Smart materials that open new avenues for scientific understanding and practical applications and are constantly developing. There probably exists many highly amazing materials in research and development right now. Many may yield fantastic benefits for humanity. Which material did you think was the coolest and more revolutionary? Let me know in the comments down below. Thanks for reading!