Messing with Physics – Uphill Water, Super-hydrophobic, Rattlebacks & Ice Cream

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Messing with Physics

The world is full of awesome and useful inventions, like the George Foreman Grill. But for every invention with a clear purpose, there’s one that was apparently just invented to make you question your own sanity. Such as…

10. The Gomboc

The gomboc is what mathematicians like to call a “mono-monostatic object,” which is a fancy way of saying that it’s impossible to put this thing down the wrong way. If you do, it will right itself like it’s full of angry, obsessive-compulsive ghosts.

This may not sound impressive until you realize that there’s literally only one way you can put this thing down on a flat surface. Regardless of how you place the gomboc it will always revert back to its singular point of equilibrium thanks to some clever math. And, well, that’s about all it does.

In other words, the gomboc’s only practical purpose is demonstrating what a gomboc is, which would be fine if it didn’t cost 2oo Euros. There’s no way to justify spending that kind of money just to be able to be annoy people by betting them they can’t turn this thing upside down, unless you’re betting them a significant amount of money.

9. The Rattleback

Like the gomboc, the rattleback is a shape that was designed seemingly just to make people accuse you of being a wizard. It’s a small, elliptical object that can only be spun either clockwise or counter-clockwise, depending on its design. If you try to spin a rattleback in the opposite direction it will actively resist the motion and then turn in the direction it’s intended to go, because suck on that, physics.

Watch it in action and try to tell us it doesn’t look like a cheap effect from a crappy horror movie. Amazingly, rattlebacks aren’t the result of scientists working tirelessly in a lab, or mathematicians trying to solve a long-standing equation — people have been using these things as toys for thousands of years.

Though scientists have kind of figured out how rattlebacks work, the fact that they’re able to completely reverse their direction is so unbelievable that it’s not uncommon for scientists to assume they’re the work of trickery when first seeing them. Like this guy who went out and made his own when he saw one on TV because he couldn’t believe it until he saw it first hand.

8. The Uphill Water Fountain


The uphill water fountain is the brain-child of engineer James Dyson (yes, the vacuum cleaner guy). According to Dyson, he created the sculpture purely to see if it could be done, and it took him just over a year to build it.

Revealed in 2003, Dyson’s water sculpture — aptly named “Wrong Garden” — immediately drew the attention of the media when no one present was able to adequately explain how Dyson had managed to make the water flow uphill against the force of gravity. The secret was that it used compressed air to pump water uphill. To create the illusion that the water was flowing naturally, the pressurized water was sandwiched between two sheets of clear plastic and the upper layer had a thin film of water running down it. The end result was a babbling brook that appeared to flow naturally uphill like it wasn’t no thing, and a bunch of people scratching their heads wondering out loud how the illusion was accomplished.

7. One Way Bulletproof Glass

Considering that the only real purpose of bulletproof glass is to stop you from being shot to death, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that it’s tougher to crack than an egg laid by a diamond hen. But then you have glass that’s only bulletproof from one side. This isn’t a theoretical prototype or a pipe dream of a mad scientist, it’s a real thing that exists today and is super cool.

The reason unidirectional ballistic glass is such a mind-screw for physicists is because it’s able to maintain its structural integrity while being shot at from two different directions at the same time. It simultaneously allows bullets to pass through one way while striking down the bullets heading from the opposite direction like a planar Gandalf.

The secret to the glass lies in its composition. One side is covered in a thin sheet of polycarbonate, while the other side is covered in a thick sheet of bulletproof acrylic. Bullets fired from the acrylic side are immediately flattened on impact, robbing them of the energy they’d need to penetrate the glass, while bullets fired from the other side are caught by the polycarbonate first, which doesn’t deform them and allows them to pass through unscathed. Which is just a long way of saying that the people who invented this found a way of turning unicorn tears into a window.

6. The Effortless Wood Splitting Axe

If we could point to a single reason why lumberjacks are portrayed as barrel-chested, beard sporting woodsmen who could just as easily crush a man’s head with their bare hands as they could cup a newborn baby squirrel in them, it’ssplitting wood. Along with requiring an immense amount of upper body strength, splitting wood also requires keen hand-eye coordination and a surprising amount of technique. In short, it’s really, really hard. Unless you happen to use this axe.

Designed by Finnish inventer Heikki Kärnä, the Leveraxe uses a wedged design that shifts its center of gravity ever so slightly to the side. That means the axe will almost never randomly deflect off of a particularly tough piece of wood because all of the energy is “dissipated gradually” as opposed to being violently redirected at your groin. Thanks to this, splitting wood with the Leveraxe is way easier than it is with a regular axe to the point where even an untrained jackass could hold their own against a seasoned woodsman.

5. The Machine That Cooks Ice Cream

Imagine a machine that’s capable of hiding an entire scoop of ice cold ice creaminside of a freshly cooked, piping hot French pastry. We didn’t just describe something from God’s kitchen — it really exists.

Aptly dubbed the Oxymoron Maker 2, it was invented and designed by Andreu Carulla during his tenure at a famed Spanish restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca. As much as we’d love to explain how it works, we can’t because Carulla has refused to license it. As a result, the only way to see it in action is to physically to go to Spain. All we know for sure is that the machine is somehow capable of sealing a blob of ice cream inside a fresh brioche in seconds, without compromising the taste of either. Oh, and it’s partly made of bamboo. You could probably reverse engineer one just based on that information, right?

4. The Glass That Tells You What’s Inside It


The main problem with drinking from a clear glass tumbler is that it often fails to properly advertise your beverage of choice to others. Sure, they could ask you, or make an educated guess based on the color of the liquid, but wouldn’t it be better if the glass magically displayed the name of what it contained? If you found yourself slowly nodding your head during the latter part of that sentence, you may wish to invest in a set of Cipher drinking glasses.

The Cipher appears to be nothing more than a regular drinking glass that’s been decorated with thousands of tiny dots. But when you pour something into the glass some of the dots disappear, spelling out the name of whatever drink you chose like some sort of liquid witchcraft.

And before you ask, yes, it can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi,seemingly for no other reason than the designer anticipating that everyonewould try that. If you put one of these in front of us and showed us it in action, you’d leave that room with our wallet.

3. The Mighty Mug

We’re just going to cut to the chase with this entry — the Mighty Mug is a punch-proof travel mug.

Using what the inventors refer to as “Smartgrip Technology,” the Mighty Mug is practically impossible to knock over once it’s placed on a suitable surface. It requires no force whatsoever to move — you just pick it up like a regular mug. However, while it’s attached to a surface, the Mighty Mug can be knocked, shaken or even punched and it won’t move an inch. How does it tell the difference between someone trying to gently pick it up and an elbow nudging it towards a brand new Macbook? We have no idea, but our current working theory is either elves or a particularly one-sided deal with Satan.

There’s no fancy trick or hidden button you need to press to make it stay in place, it just does because the Mighty Mug has no time to mess around. You could even stick it to a vertical surface and then punch it if you really wanted to.

Now, we’re not saying you have to go out and buy one of these things, because they’re like 20 bucks and regardless of how well it defies gravity it’s still just a mug. But if you did decide to buy one, we’d really love to see a video of you freaking out your friends by putting it next to their laptop and punching it.

2. Super-hydrophobic Spray

Without getting too technical, once a given object has been covered with a super-hydrophobic coating it “literally cannot be touched by liquid.” As long as the coating remains in place it will repel any and all liquid it comes into contact with. That’s not us being hyperbolic, that’s a direct quote from a company selling such a product and, as we all know, companies never lie about the capabilities of the things they sell (now we’re being hyperbolic).

Since “our product can literally repel any and all liquid” is a bold claim, many of the companies making super-hydrophobic sprays have released videos demonstrating exactly what the product can do. In this video you can see materials repelling water, wet cement, paint, mud and oil. There’s a second video where they throw even more crap at objects coated in this stuff just to film it sliding off like they were recently scrubbed with orphan tears.

Sadly, super-hydrophobic sprays (or at least the good ones) can only be purchased for commercial use. Although that’s probably for the best, because if we had access to a can of this stuff we’d spend all day spraying it on our socks so we could keep them on when we went swimming.

1. Starlite

Starlite is a heat-resistant plastic invented back in the ’80s by hairdresserMaurice Ward. But don’t let that description fool you into thinking Starlite’s a joke, because it could easily change the world… if anyone knew how to make it.

According to Ward, he was driven to invent Starlite in 1985 after witnessing the aftermath of the British Airtours Flight 28M disaster. Several dozen people died when their plane caught fire on the runway, which inspired Ward to try and create a substance that simply couldn’t burn. And he apparently succeeded.

The substance, which Ward created in his kitchen blender, displayed remarkable insulating properties. In one famous experiment, Ward coated a raw egg in it and then placed it three inches away from a lit blowtorch. Five minutes later the egg was cracked open to reveal that it was still completely raw.

Many were skeptical of the lofty claims Ward made about Starlite (named at the request of his granddaughter), but experiment after experiment seemed to confirm everything Ward claimed. Scientists have exposed Starlite to everything from high-powered lasers to the equivalent of a nuclear flash without damaging it, or even burning it or producing smoke. Experts have theorized that Starlitecould be hugely beneficial.

Unfortunately, Ward was paranoid about his idea being stolen. Although he was happy for people to experiment with Starlite, he never actually licensed it to anyone. That’s not to say people didn’t try — Ward spent years talking with defense contractors, private companies and even NASA, but nothing ever came of any of them because Ward refused to sign confidentiality agreements, even when hundreds of millions of dollars were on the table. In the end, Ward took the secret of Starlite to his grave in 2011, leaving behind thousands of annoyed scientists. We guess that’s almost as great of a legacy as a world-changing plastic.


Messing with Physics –

Uphill Water, Super-hydrophobic, Rattlebacks & Ice Cream

The Speed of Light – Facts & Figures

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The Speed of Light – Facts & Figures




Speed of light
The distance from the Sun to the Earth is shown as 150 million kilometers, an approximate average. Sizes to scale.

Sunlight takes about 8 minutes 17 seconds to travel the average distance from the surface of the Sun to theEarth.
Exact values
metres per second 299792458
Planck length per Planck time
(i.e., Planck units)
Approximate values
kilometres per second 300,000
kilometres per hour 1,080 million
miles per second 186,000
miles per hour 671 million
astronomical units per day 173
Approximate light signal travel times
Distance Time
one foot 1.0 ns
one metre 3.3 ns
from geostationary orbit to Earth 119 ms
the length of Earth’s equator 134 ms
from Moon to Earth 1.3 s
from Sun to Earth (1 AU) 8.3 min
from nearest star to Sun (1.3 pc) 4.2 years
from the nearest galaxy (the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy) to Earth 25,000 years
across the Milky Way 100,000 years
from the Andromeda Galaxy (the nearest spiral galaxy) to Earth 2.5 million years


The speed of light in vacuum, commonly denoted c

, is a universalphysical constant important in many areas of physics. Its value is exactly299,792,458 metres per second because the length of the metre is defined from this constant and the international standard for time.[1] This is, to three significant figures, 186,000 miles per second, or about 671 millionmiles per hour. According to special relativity, c is the maximum speed at which all matter and information in the universe can travel. It is the speed at which all massless particles and changes of the associated fields (includingelectromagnetic radiation such as light and gravitational waves) travel in vacuum. Such particles and waves travel at c regardless of the motion of the source or the inertial frame of reference of the observer. In the theory of relativity, c interrelates space and time, and also appears in the famous equation of mass–energy equivalence E = mc2.[2]


The Speed of Light – Facts & Figures