Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The [Unusual] Materials Library

George Pendle has done a nice write-up of the Materials Library at King's College London for the Finanical Times. This library is now amongst the places I want to visit should I ever visit London again.

In his article, Mr. Pendle writes:

Deep in the bowels of a brutalist concrete building on the Strand, long shelves are packed – crammed, really – with some of the world’s strangest substances, from the past, present and sometimes, it seems, the future. Take Aerogel: the world’s lightest solid consists of 99.8 per cent air and looks like a vague, hazy mass. And yet despite its insubstantial nature, it is remarkably strong; and because of its ability to nullify convection, conduction and radiation, it also happens to be the best insulator in the world. Sitting next to the Aerogel is its thermal opposite, a piece of aluminium nitride, which is such an effective conductor of heat that if you grasp a blunt wafer of it in your hand, the warmth of your body alone allows it to cut through ice. Nearby are panes of glass that clean themselves, metal that remembers the last shape it was twisted into, and a thin tube of Tin Stick which, when bent, emits a sound like a human cry. There’s a tub of totally inert fluorocarbon liquid into which any electronic device can be placed and continue to function. The same liquid has been used to replace the blood in lab rats, which also, oddly enough, continue to function.

There are turbine jet-engine blades grown from a single crystal and designed to function in the most inhospitable places on the planet. There’s a swatch of the world’s blackest black, 25 times blacker than conventional black paint. There’s a lead bell that refuses to ring, a piece of bone with a saw through it, and the largest blob of Silly Putty you’re ever likely to see.

All these, and more than 900 others, including everyday materials such as aluminium, steel and copper, are here for one purpose – to instil a sense of wonder in the visitor.

King's College London Materials

The library's current top ten materials are:
current Top Ten

1. Aerogel- lightest solid on earth
2. Aluminium Nitride Wafer - cuts ice like butter
3. Bioglass Scaffold.- cells turn into bone on contact
4. Rapid Prototpye Nylon Chainmail - the ultimate in machine art
5. Silicon Nitride Ball Bearing - smashes concrete without a scratch
6. Ferro fluid - a liquid that is not a liquid
7. Thermochromic Paper - a retake on the colour of heat
8. Tin Stick - a metal that cries
9. Shape Memory Alloy - metal that remember its shape
10. TV Rock - a natural version of transparent concrete

You can read more about the materials by the library's very own Dr. Mark Miodownik at no other than than the King's College London site itself here.  ▣

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