Creature from Cornstarch Lagoon

When you stir cornstarch it begins to thicken, unlike most liquids, due to the property of shear thickening. Physicist Robert Deegan of the University of Texas in Austin and other team members vibrated a tray of cornstarch and then blew holes in the surface with a straw. The holes remained intact at high enough accelerations. At even higher accelerations, a single hole transformed into a bizarre-looking series of cornstarch tentacles that multiplied across the surface like some alien creature from a horror film.

Reading about such research is one thing; seeing it is another. The researchers took video of the strange activity. While the video is supposed to work in QuickTime right from the browser, I was only able to get it to work by copying the following link and pasting it in the File>Open dialog box in RealPlayer:

http://chaos.ph.utexas.edu/~rddeegan/images/cornstarch/cornstarch.avi

More pictures and a reprint of the research paper are available at the researchers’ website.

Source: New Scientist, 15 May 2004 Issue

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype and is forthcoming from The Laurel Review. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.