Volume 53, Issue 6

I don’t need to tell you that many of the streets in New Orleans wreak havoc on a car’s suspension system, and being from a climate that sees extreme freeze-thaw cycles, I’m no stranger to potholes… LOTS of potholes. So, when I came across this article I was simply awestruck and wanted to share what seems like a brilliant and cheap, albeit temporary, solution to a pesky problem. Maybe someday, we won’t be baking birthday cakes to celebrate a pothole’s first birthday in New Orleans (also brilliant, by the way)!

This is the article, copied from the “autos” section of msn.com, written by Douglas Newcomb:

“Local politicians probably get more calls on potholes than anything else. But these days, with budget shortfalls and with tax hikes about as popular as the Jonas Brothers, it seems that there are more potholes — and the ones that are there are even larger.

Maybe it’s time for an additional solution that can fi ll the gap (pun intended) when road crews can’t get to all of the bone-jarring banes of driving existence. Students at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University have come up with an alternative, and in April they took the top prize in a competition sponsored by global materials company Saint-Gobain, in which the objective was to use simple materials to create an unconventional product that solves a common problem.

Because a byproduct of potholes is puddles, the team deduced that best way to solve the problem was to fill them with a non-Newtonian fluid. Non-Newtonian fluids respond differently to shear than Newtonian fluids, acting as a solid upon impact. The students filled a Kevlar bag with a nontoxic goop called “oobleck” to win the prize. (Without the force, oobleck is like a sack of fluid, simply conforming to the contours of the pothole and creating a level surface.)

The students have road-tested the solution, although tougher winter testing will be required. As with many new ideas, the initial upfront cost may be no less than traditional pothole repair techniques. However, the bags are reusable, so there’s a potential for long-term cost savings. And because oobleck is biodegradable, it’s also environmentally friendly.

Several companies have expressed interested in the students’ prize-winning solution. But instead of waiting on this — or for politicians or other offi cials to fi ll potholes on your street — it seems any enterprising citizen could potentially mix a bag of oobleck and fix the problem himself — assuming he has some Kevlar bags lying around.”

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