Mind & Matter


A Practical Use for Oobleck

Submit A Comment | View Comments

Students fill a pothole with non-Newtonian fluid. Photo: Lisa DeJong, The Plain Dealer


Remember playing with oobleck in science lab? The strange material that can shift between liquid and solid properties, called a non-Newtonian fluid, is incredibly simple to make out of cornstarch and water. It exhibits liquid properties when moved slowly, but becomes stiff when rapid pressure is applied. Although oobleck—which earned its name from a Dr. Seuss story—evokes surprise in a high school classroom, it doesn't immediately conjure ideas for practical applications.

Engineering students at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University have developed a clever use for the material, however: filling potholes. Determined to find a fix for a perennial problem, the students thought of a non-Newtonian fluid—in particular, a shear-thickening fluid as described above—because of its ability to fill irregularly-shaped depressions yet become rigid in the presence of passing automobiles. "When there's no force being applied to it, it flows like a liquid does and fills in the holes," says team-member Curtis Obert, "but when it gets run over, it acts like a solid."

The students tried out many formulations of the oobleck material before arriving at the desired particle density. They propose supplying road crews with waterproof bags filled with the fluid—topped with black concealment fabric—as a temporary solution until more permanent patches can be made. According to team member Mayank Saksena, "We definitely don't want people avoiding them."

Check out the students' working demonstration of the pothole patch on YouTube.



Comments (3 Total)

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 12:30 PM Friday, February 27, 2015

    Wow that was so unhelpful but nice try, don't try again you suck

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Anonymous | Time: 12:30 PM Friday, February 27, 2015

    Wow that was so unhelpful but nice try, don't try again you suck

    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: Saadia awais | Time: 10:34 AM Thursday, June 05, 2014

    What's this fu*k I hate it NO PICTURES?

    Report this as offensive

Comment on this Post

Post your comment below. If you wish, enter a username and password though they are not required. Please read our Content Guidelines before posting.


Enter the code shown in the image

Username is optional


Enter a password if you want a username


About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.