As children we’re taught that there are three basic states of matter: solids, liquids, and gases. The latter two are known scientifically as fluids. But the world doesn’t divide quite so simply into those three categories, and scientists have since named several other states of matter, including plasmas, superfluids, and Bose-Einstein condensates. Many of these types of matter only exist under extreme temperatures and/or pressures, which makes them difficult to observe. Scientists have instead turned to numerical simulation to discover and study these exotic materials.
One of the latest discoveries among these bizarre materials is a form of potassium that simultaneously displays properties of a solid and a liquid. Inside this so-called chain-melted potassium, there’s a complex crystalline lattice containing smaller chains of atoms. One author described the material thus: “ It would be like holding a sponge filled with water that starts dripping out, except the sponge is also made of water.” That certainly boggles my mind! (Image credit: Turtle Rock Scientific; research credit: V. Robinson et al.; via NatGeo; submitted by Emily R.)
Rocket science has a reputation for being an incredibly difficult subject. But while there’s complexity in the execution, the concept behind rockets is pretty simple: throw mass out the back really fast and you’ll move forward. Whether you’re talking about a Saturn V or these Coke-and-butane-powered bottles, the basic principle is the same.
These rockets get their kick mostly from the added butane, which has a very low boiling point. When the bottle is flipped, the lighter butane is forced to rise through the Coke. With a large surface area of liquid butane exposed to the warmer Coke, the butane becomes gaseous. That sudden increase in volume forces a liquid-Coke-and-gaseous-butane mixture out of the bottle, which has a helpful nozzle shape to further increase the propellant’s speed. Once the phase change is underway, the rocket quickly takes off! (Image and video credit: The Slow Mo Guys)
As you may have noticed when washing vegetables, many plants have superhydrophobic leaves. Water just beads up on their surface and slides right off. This is a useful feature for plants that want to direct that water toward their roots, but it’s a frustration in agriculture, where that superhydrophobicity means extra spraying of pesticides in order to get enough to stick to the plant.
But that may not be the case for much longer. Researchers have found that adding a little polymer to water droplets (right) can suppress their ability to rebound (left) from superhydrophobic surfaces. Above a critical concentration, the high shear rate of the droplet as it tries to detach activates the viscoelastic properties of the polymer. That viscoelasticity suppresses the rebound, keeping the droplet attached. That’s good news for everyone, since it means less spraying is needed to protect crops. (Image and research credit: P. Dhar et al.)
Complex fluids leave behind fascinating stains after they evaporate. We’ve seen previously how coffee forms rings and whisky forms more complicated stains as surface tension changes during evaporation drive particles throughout the droplet. Now researchers are considering the differences between traditional Scottish whisky, which ages in re-used, uncharred barrels, and American whiskeys like bourbon, which are required to age in new, charred white oak barrels.
When diluted, the American whiskeys form web-like patterns – seen above – that vary from brand to brand, like a fingerprint. The charring of the barrels allows American whiskeys to pick up more water-insoluble molecules compared to whisky aged in uncharred barrels. Since the webbed patterns form in American whiskey but not Scotch whisky, it’s likely those molecules play an important role in the evaporation dynamics and subsequent staining. (Image credit: S. Williams et al.; research credit: S. Williams et al.; via APS Physics; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)