A group of students from Case Western Reserve University have come up with a novel idea for fixing the pothole problem in the nation’s road network. They created an “oobleck,” a type of fluid, that can be used to fill a hole in asphalt and sustain a car’s weight easily.
As liquid as water; stiff as a board
Running over a pothole can really crater a person’s day. Holes worn in road surfaces by weather and repeated use by cars pose a danger to suspension and steering components if driven over at speed and not every driver can avoid one easily.
Typically, fixing them involves dispatching a construction crew and asphalt. It disrupts traffic and can be impossibly inconvenient if the fix is on a busy street. It’s also terribly expensive. However, a student group from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, according to AutoBlog, have a solution.
The students crafted a liquid using easily found ingredients that stiffens up under pressure. To fix a pothole temporarily, one or several pouches holding the mixture could be placed in a hole, allowing motorists to drive over it safely.
Here comes some science
Brace yourself; here comes some science. The liquid that forms the substance, according to Popular Science, is what is known as a non-Newtonian fluid. Many of the rules on how fluids behave were codified by Isaac Newton, essentially the greatest scientific mind of all time and many consider him the single most brilliant person to have drawn breath.
Newton observed that most liquids are “shear-thinning;” in other words, when pressure is applied to a body of liquid, the liquid “runs” away from the source of pressure. Non-Newtonian liquids are shear-thickening, or in other words, stiffen up and solidify when pressure is applied.
Here’s an example: mayonnaise, according to Science magazine, thins when spread on a sandwich. Pressure from a butter knife or spoon spreads the particles apart, thinning the susbstance. Oobleck, the name given to a mixture of cornstarch and water by a popular children’s book, is runny as all get out but solidifies if pressure is applied to it.
The idea is to mix a proprietary powder and water in a black kevlar bag that will be put into potholes, according to Science. It could be carried in a car trunk, meaning it can be deployed very quickly. The team, which created the mixture for an engineering competition run by the Saint-Gobain chemicals company, is patenting the recipe. However, it is fully bio-degradable and harmless enough to be edible, though it is said to taste incredibly nasty.
The bags have already undergone some road-testing with positive results in Cleveland, but have yet to undergo a full-scale test over the course of a winter, when many potholes form in the roads. They aren’t intended as a permanent solution; rather a temporary solution until a crew can be deployed. It remains to be seen if the idea spreads.