Oobleck – that peculiarly behaved mixture of cornstarch and water – continues to be a favorite of children and researchers both. Oobleck flows like a liquid when deformed slowly, but try to move it quickly and it will seize up like a solid. This sudden change depends on the tiny particles of cornstarch suspended in the liquid. When they’re given time, electrostatic forces between the particles help them repel one another and keep the liquid flowing. But under sudden impacts, the particles get jammed together and the friction between neighboring grains makes the viscosity of the fluid increase by orders of magnitude.
Researchers are now able to model these particle interactions numerically, which will help them predict how oobleck and similar substances will behave in applications like body armor or pothole repair. (Video credit: MIT; via MIT News; research credit: A. Baumgarten and K. Kamrin)