CLEVELAND, OHIO—So-called non-Newtonian fluids are the stars of high school science demonstrations. In one example, an ooey-gooey batter made from corn starch and water oozes like a liquid when moved slowly. But punch it, or run across a giant puddle of it, and it becomes stiff like a solid. Pour it on top of a speaker cone, and the vibrations cause the fluid to stiffen and form strange tendril-like shapes. Now, a group of college students has figured out a new use for the strange stuff: filler for potholes.
The students, undergraduates at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, devised the idea as part of an engineering contest sponsored by the French materials company Saint-Gobain—and took first prize last week. The objective was to use simple materials to create a novel product.
“So we were putzing around with different ideas and things we wanted to work with—and we were like, what’s a common, everyday problem all around the world that everybody hates?” explains 21-year-old team member Curtis Obert. “And we landed on potholes.” He and four other students decided on a non-Newtonian fluid as a solution because of its unusual physical properties. “When there’s no force being applied to it, it flows like a liquid does and fills in the holes,” says Obert, “but when it gets run over, it acts like a solid.”