Tonight on our brand new series None of the Above, host Tim Shaw hits the streets of Vegas to pit ordinary people against the wonders of science. Get to know the forces of nature behind his experiments, including the physics of coffee creamer, the secret strength of eggs, and what custard and quicksand have in common.
Combustible Coffee Creamer
That container of coffee creamer in your office kitchen may seem harmless, but expose it to fire and it becomes a ball of flames. Besides the fact that your creamer doesn’t actually contain any cream (hence the “non-dairy” label usually printed on the container), the powdery coffee companion is hiding a highly combustible secret, one that it shares with flour and grain mills. These mills were historically endangered by buildups of combustible dust, finely divided particles that can burn rapidly and cause serious explosion hazards. The same goes for the fine powder of coffee creamer, which is highly combustible when exposed to oxygen in the air.
The Mighty Egg
What does an egg and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis have in common? Both are designed similarly for immense architectural strength. The myth that eggs are weak and fragile is hard to crack, as conventional breakfast-making wisdom tells us that eggs break easily. But hold an egg longways between your thumb and forefinger and it’s a different story; the egg will withstand the pressure. In fact, the egg’s strength lies in its unique shape that distributes weight evenly around its curved shell, directing pressure so that it compresses the egg without breaking it. This results in a structure that’s far stronger than it looks.
The Custard Conundrum: Solid or Liquid?
At first glance, there’s nothing particularly special about a bowl of vanilla custard (other than its delicious taste). But chances are you’ve never tried to land a square punch into it. Custard may flow freely when you’re pouring it into a bowl, but under high stress it morphs into a solid. Why? Custard is a strange anomaly known to scientists as a non-Newtonian fluid, a substance that changes its viscosity under stress. When custard is hit, its molecular structure changes temporarily from a liquid to a solid before then returning to its natural gooey state. Another liquid with similar properties is quicksand, which turns solid as you walk across it – if only for a minute before you sink!
Tune in to None of the Above: Forces of Nature tonight at 9P.