If you’ve been alive for any length of time, you’ve probably seen some kind of weird stuff.
But if there’s one thing that you can always count on, it’s that everything natural is logical and rational and sensible… and, hold up – you’ve probably seen some weird stuff in nature as well.
And how do you fight fire? With fire, of course!
“There’s no way that nature should be able to outdo us when it comes to insanity. We’re human beings, after all!”, seems to have been the thought process of the mad scientists who’ve been working on some mind-boggling materials that make less sense than LSD-induced hallucinations.
Or maybe we’re just blessed with a crop of people who are trying to change the world using phenomenal new discoveries. Either way, we’ve got to learn about a lot of pretty weird stuff.
You’ve probably heard of Vantablack before, but just in case you haven’t, it’s a material that absorbs nearly all visible light thrown at it.
This has the unnerving effect of making any substance coated with (or made of) Vantablack look like a portal leading to a dark, endless void where all that is good and beautiful comes to an end.
Did we mention that it’s pretty creepy?
It also makes the curviest and most angular objects look two-dimensional. You may think that’s good for camouflage or hiding, but it’s not easy to hide from someone when you’re looking like a two-dimensional human-shaped black hole.
Where Is it Used?
Vantablack is ten times stronger than steel and an extremely good conductor of electricity.
While it was originally meant to be used in telescopes, scientists are now working on integrating it in imaging devices, touch screens, microchips, and ultralight wiring.
Unfortunately, Vantablack is extremely expensive – you can’t science your car into the Batmobile, yet.
Ferrofluids are liquids that become strongly magnetized when exposed to a magnetic field. Basically, they’re attracted to magnets, like, really strongly.
Seeing ferrofluids getting strongly magnetized can be a creepy experience.
Why? Because they look like nascent horrors from the Old World which are preparing to transform into horrifying creatures ready to show you what the worst corners of Hell look like.
Have you ever seen iron filings aligning themselves to a magnetic field?
Ferrofluids behave the exact same way – the only difference is that they are liquids.
Where Are They Used?
Aside from looking incredibly cool (and slightly terrifying), ferrofluids have a host of practical applications. They are mainly used to protect hard discs and to in creating dampers in mechanical applications, but they have loads of other small-scale applications.
And since they look so trippy, there are tons of artists who create ferrofluid exhibitions. If you want to feel like you’ve taken an extremely strong psychedelic, feel free to watch said exhibitions.
If you watch something like this…
...while under the influence of a psychedelic, we have absolutely no idea what might happen, so please avoid that, lest reality implodes around you to punish you for being too meta.
An aerogel. An unexpectedly mundane name for a material that seems to bend the laws of physics.
But what are aerogels?
Aerogels are a group of materials made from gels where the liquid component has been replaced by gas. This process creates a solid which has an extremely low density and is close to useless at conducting heat.
It’s remarkably strong and translucent, so if you balance a brick on it, a casual observer may think it’s levitating. Another interesting property of aerogels is that they are extremely hygroscopic and will absorb water from any surface they come into contact with.
Whether it’s water from the atmosphere or from your skin, Aerogels can be very strong desiccants.
Despite their name, aerogels aren’t gel-like at all – their name comes from the fact that they are made from gels.
Oh, and if you give them an extremely firm press, they break and shatter faster than your ego when you start playing a particularly harrowing survival game. Luckily, newer production technologies have eliminated this, and most new aerogels don’t behave that way.
Where Are They Used?
Aerogels are most commonly used to insulate buildings since they are much cheaper and more effective than traditional insulation - in the long run. They are also used to catalyze chemical reactions, clean up spills, filter heavy metals, in energy absorbers, in particle accelerators, and in a lot of other things that just sound like sciencey gobbledygook to us.
Newton was a physicist. Newton’s laws of physics are what made up the basis of a lot of the physics we learned in school. So, what exactly is a non-Newtonian fluid?
A non-Newtonian fluid is simply a liquid that transforms into a solid when a certain amount of pressure is applied to it. There’s a whole spectrum of non-Newtonian liquids, ranging from ones that barely solidify when subjected to pressure to liquids that literally shatter when hit by a hammer.
There are actually several different categories of non-Newtonian liquids, but the most interesting one (at least to us mundanes), are shear thickening fluids – which we just talked about.
So, Apart from Allowing People to Walk on Liquids...
...Where Are They Used?
Mostly in four-wheel drive vehicles right now. However, there’s a ton of military research going on into creating liquid armor that solidifies when hit by an object, essentially creating highly flexible armor.
If you’ve has access to the Internet over the past few years, you’ve probably heard of graphene. Two-dimensional, really tiny, nearly transparent, extremely efficient conductor, two hundred times stronger than steel… it sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it?
So why hasn’t this wondrous material taken over the world? Why isn’t every man-made structure made from graphene?
Unfortunately, graphene is a two-dimensional material and is extremely hard to transform into a three-dimensional structure. We’ve seen a lot of technology companies adopt the use of graphene for micro-components in systems, but we haven’t actually seen any large-scale applications of the technology.
Until now, that is.
Earlier this year, scientists discovered a method of creating 3D graphene models by taking small flecks of the materials and blend them together into a mesh structure.
This allows us to create three-dimensional graphene models that retain the material’s strength and porous nature.
Where Are They Used?
The discovery is relatively new, having occurred just a few months ago, and will probably take some time to implement.
Once we’re past the teething period, however, we may witness the beginning of a new era – one where every man-made structure is made from graphene.
Images sourced from their respective pages on Wikipedia.