WHAT'S THAT STUFF? The Strange Matters exhibit helps visitors explore the world of materials science. For instance, you can explore a vat of an amazing magnetic liquid that morphs from a fluid to a solid at the touch of a button, or manipulate blobs of ferrofluid with rare-earth magnets. You can watch crystals grow into intricate patterns in real time, marvel at aerogels (the lightest materials ever made), and bend and twist a Nitinol memory metal ribbon, then watch it return to its original shape. Or you can learn how to grow a giant column of silicon from a single seed in the laboratory, and see how sand is transformed into microchips.
MATERIAL ISSUES: Materials science is the study of stuff the substances that make up things you use everyday, from your shoes, dishes, CDs, or your bicycle or skateboard. All are made from different kinds of materials. Materials derive their unique properties from atomic structure so materials scientists can manipulate atoms and molecules to design new kinds of stuff with different properties that could show up in the nifty gadgets, clothing and kitchenware of tomorrow.
SHATTERED GLASS: Smash the Glass lets visitors discover whether heat-tempered glass can withstand the shock of impact from a bowling ball, learning about this unusual material in the process. Glass straddles the boundary between a solid and a liquid; scientists call it an amorphous solid. In a solid, molecules are arranged in a precise closely-linked structure; in liquids the molecules are more disordered, so the substance can flow. Glass molecules are rigidly bound, as in a solid, but they are not as orderly as the molecules in a crystal. This unusual state arises from how glass is made: by cooling a liquid below its freezing point, then cooling it some more. Cool the liquid fast enough and the molecules don't have time to arrange into a solid linked structure. Instead, the liquid becomes more viscous resistant to flow. The molecules gradually move more and more slowly, until they are hardly moving at all, giving glass its solid characteristics.
The Materials Research Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.