Reader Questions

Reader Question: Kinetic Sand

Kinetic sand

An inquiring reader wants to know:

How does kinetic sand work to make it flow like a liquid?  Thanks!

– 3 Year Olds Everywhere

I confess I don’t have any firsthand experience with Kinetic Sand, but it certainly looks fun. It’s a colorful, moldable sand toy that holds together far better than your typical pile of sand. From what I’ve been able to find, the secret ingredients are a little bit of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) — a type of silicon-based polymer — and olive oil, which coats the sand and keeps it from drying out.

PDMS is viscoelastic, which is what gives the Kinetic Sand its unique properties. When a force is applied quickly, the material reacts like a solid, which is why you can mold or cut the sand and have it maintain its shape. But when left alone for awhile under gravity’s influence, the sand will flow like a liquid. This combination of behaviors usually comes down to the polymers in the material. When forces try to stretch these long molecules quickly, they resist; that’s what creates the elasticity of the material. On the other hand, when a force is gradual, the complex molecules have the time to untangle and relax, allowing the material to flow. (Image credit: Kinetic Sand, source)

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