10 Jaw-Dropping Videos Of Amazing Scientific Phenomena
Life is full of wonders that most of us will never see. From the quantum to the cosmic, there are forces at play all around us that shape and mold our world. Most of them are readily visible in day-to-day life, but underneath the veneer of reality lies a realm teeming with the twisted caricatures of familiar scientific principles. Take our hand and let’s dive deep into the dominion of the bizarre, where the natural rules of physics melt into a bubbling pool of pure, unadulterated wonder.
10 Quantum Levitation
When you cool certain materials below a base temperature, they become superconductors, which conduct electricity with zero resistance. A little under half of known metals have a built in “transition temperature”—once they drop below that temperature, they become superconductors. Of course, that temperature is usually pretty low. Rhodium, for example, makes the crossover at -273.15 ºC (-459.66 ºF). That’s a few hundredths of a degree above absolute zero. In other words, playing with superconductors is a little hard to do.
At least it was, until the advent of high-temperature superconductors. These materials have complex crystalline structures and are usually made with a mixture of ceramic and copper, along with other metals. These materials transition to superconductors at around -160.59 ºC (-321.07 ºF) or higher. Not exactly balmy, but a bit easier to play with.
And since that also happens to be the boiling point of liquid nitrogen, we can tap into some other bizarre traits of superconductors at room temperature, as in the above video. See, when superconductors are placed near a weak energy field (like a magnet), they create a surface barrier of electric current that repels magnetic waves. When that happens, the magnetic field lines curve around the superconductor, locking it in place—in midair. Twist it in any direction, and the superconductor automatically compensates with an electric field to counteract the magnet. The phenomenon is known as either quantum locking, or quantum levitation.
9 Newton’s Beads
If you take a jar right now and fill it with a long chain of Mardi Gras beads, you can recreate this phenomenon in your living room. Coil the string of beads into the jar, then jerk one end out of the jar and towards the floor. What happens is what you would expect—the chain starts sliding out of the jar. But then something unexpected follows—instead of continuing to slide over the rim of the jar, the beads leap up into the air like a fountain before curving back towards the floor.
This is a pretty simple concept, but it looks really cool in action. Three different forces are at work here. Gravity, of course, pulls the leading edge of the chain towards the floor. As each chain link succumbs to gravity, it pulls along the bead behind it—that’s the second force.
But back inside the jar, we get the third force—the jar is actually propelling the beads into the air. It sounds crazy—stupid even—because the jar clearly isn’t moving, but it all comes down to what a chain fundamentally is.
At the most basic level, a chain is a series of rigid rods connected by a flexible joint. Think of a line of boxcars in a train. In a hypothetical situation, if you pulled up on the front end of a train car, it would tilt up along its center axis—the front would go up while the back goes down. In real life it doesn’t do this because there’s a solid layer of planet Earth directly below it. Instead, it tilts up on its back edge. When it does that, the ground is essentially pushing up to throw it out of its natural rotation. If the force pulling up was scaled up in proportion to the weight of the boxcar, the force from the ground would actually toss it into the air. The Royal Society has another video that explains this in greater depth.
So when each link of the chain of beads leaves its resting surface because it’s being pulled by the link in front of it, the bottom of the jar (or the layer of beads below it) pops it into the air, creating a “gravity-defying” loop until gravity takes over and drags it back down.
8 Ferrofluid Sculptures
When combined with a magnet, ferrofluid becomes one of the single most incredible substances on the planet. The liquid itself is just magnetic particles suspended in a fluid medium, usually oil. The particles are on the nanoscale, which is too small for each particle to magnetically affect other particles—otherwise the liquid would just clump into itself. But put them close to a large magnet, and magic happens.
One of the most common things you’ll see ferrofluid do is form spikes and valleys when it’s near a magnet. What you’re actually seeing is the particles attempting to align themselves with the magnetic field. The spikes form where the field is strongest, but since the oil carries surface tension, the two forces reach an equilibrium at the tips of the spikes. The effect is called normal field instability—by forming these shapes, the fluid lowers the system’s total energy as much as possible.
7 Induction Heating An Ice Cube
Induction heating is a process that takes a high-frequency current, shoots it through a coil to create an electromagnet, and then pumps the resulting magnetized currents through a conducting material. When the magnetized currents hit resistance within the material, we get the Joule effect—electrically-induced heat. In this case, the conductor is a sliver of metal inside a block of ice, and the heat builds up so fast that the setup catches fire before the ice has a chance to melt.
How fast? Depending on the type of metal, an induction heater can heat something to 871 ºC (1,600 ºF) in only a second and a half with 4.1 kW of power per square inch of surface area. Four seconds into the video, the core of the ice cube is already red hot, so you can assume that it’s either using less energy or the metal used doesn’t have much natural electrical resistance. Either way, several seconds later we’re treated to a glitch in the matrix—flaming ice.
But that brings up another question: Everybody knows that ice melts above 0 ºC (32 ºF), so why doesn’t it instantly turn into a puddle of water in the face of that furnace? It’s because matter only accepts and emits energy in discrete energy packets. When heat transfers from the metal to the ice, it’s coming in a train, not a wave, which means it takes more time to transfer the energy’s full force.
6 Liquid Oxygen Bridge
The boiling point of oxygen is -183 ºC (-297.3 ºF), and everything above that is the gas we all know and love. Once it drops below that temperature, however, oxygen takes on some interesting properties. More accurately, the denser configuration of its molecules in a liquid state allow oxygen’s more obscure natural properties to step into the limelight.
A big example of that is oxygen’s paramagnetism. A paramagnetic material is only magnetized if a nearby external magnetic field acts on it. As a gas, oxygen’s molecules are too loosely scattered to be affected much by magnets. But as a liquid, it behaves just like a piece of iron near a magnet—a fiercely boiling, liquid piece of iron. With two oppositely oriented magnets, the liquid oxygen will form a bridge in the middle, which is what you’re seeing in the video. Unfortunately, it’s hard to watch it happen for long because liquid oxygen starts boiling back into a gas as soon as it enters room temperature.
5 The Briggs-Rauscher Reaction
The Briggs-Rauscher reaction is one of the most visually impressive displays of chemistry in the known world. It’s what’s known as a chemical oscillator—as it reacts, it gradually changes in color from clear to amber, then suddenly flashes to a dark blue, then back to clear, all in one oscillation. It keeps doing that for several minutes, switching between colors every few seconds.
Up to 30 different reactions can happen simultaneously at any given time during each oscillation. The chemical list reads like the ingredients in a package of frozen corn dogs: Manganese(II) sulfate monohydrate, malonic acid, starch, sulfuric acid, hydrogen peroxide, and potassium iodate would be one example (you can switch around some acids and iodate types for different reactions).
When all the chemicals combine, the iodate changes into hypoiodous acid. Once that’s present, another reaction changes the new acid into iodide and free elemental iodine. This propels the first color change, creating the amber. Then, the solution continues making iodide. As soon as there’s more iodide than iodine, the two combine into a triiodide ion. This ion reacts with the starch and blasts the solution into its dark blue stage.
This video has less flair than the one above, but it lets you see the stages more clearly.
4 Tesla Coil Warriors
Most of us are familiar with Nicola Tesla, the glistening prodigy of electrical innovation and the victim of heinous acts of competitive ballyhoo. Most of us are also familiar with the Tesla coil, a device that produces low current, high voltage AC electricity along with healthy amounts of colorful sparks.
Modern-day Tesla coils often put out between 250,000 and 500,000 volts of current. Most entertainment displays cancel out the large magnetic field with Faraday cages, which are meshes that distribute voltage evenly around their surfaces. Since electric potential is measured by differences in voltage, there’s no current inside a Faraday cage. Anyone inside can ride the lightning and come out unscathed.
And sometimes, people get creative. In the video above, the two “warriors” are covered in suits of conductive mesh—wearable Faraday cages. Another recent creative spark has given rise to “singing” Tesla coils, which play music by modulating the spark output of the coil.
3 Sine Waves And FPS
Sound waves have an incredible ability to make other objects match their frequency. If you’ve ever listened to music with a heavy bass beat in your car, you’ve probably noticed the mirrors rippling when the sound waves hit them. What’s happening in the video above is essentially that, though the end result is much more dramatic.
A 24 Hz sine wave travels through a speaker under a water hose. The hose starts vibrating 24 times per second. When the water comes out, it forms waves that match the 24 Hz frequency. Here’s the trick though: Seen in real life, it would only appear to wave back and forth on its way to the ground.
The real hero here is the camera—the phenomenon of shifted perspective. By filming the falling water at 24 frames per second, the camera makes the water stream appear to freeze in midair. Each wave of water hits the exact same space, 24 times every second. On film, it seems like the same wave sits in the air indefinitely, when in reality a different wave has taken its place each frame. If you switched the sine frequency to 23 Hz, it would actually look like the water was falling upwards into the hose because of the tiny offset between the camera’s frame rate and the sine waves.
2 Lord Kelvin’s Thunderstorm
Kelvin’s Thunderstorm, or Kelvin water dropper, was first built in 1867, and its setup is pretty simple. Drip two streams of water through two differently charged inductors, one positive and one negative. Collect the charged water drops at the bottom, let the water flow through, and harvest the electric potential. Instant energy, or at the least a little spark that you can show your friends.
So how does it work?
When it’s first set up, one of the inductors (copper rings in the video) invariably has a small natural charge to it. Let’s say the inductor on the right is slightly negative. When a drop of water falls through it, the positive ions in the water will be pulled to the surface of the droplet, and the positive ions will get pushed into the center, giving the droplet a positive surface charge.
When the positive drop lands in the collection basin on the right, it charges the basin slightly and sends a positive charge through a wire to the inductor on the left, making it positive. Now the left side is making negative water droplets, which further charge the negative inductor on the right. The positive feedback from both sides builds up until there’s enough electric potential stored up to force a discharge—a spark that jumps between the basins (or two copper ball terminals, as in the video).
Sciencey stuff aside, the coolest side effect of this machine happens at the inductors. As the charge builds, they start attracting the water’s opposite ions so hard that tiny drops of water will leap out and orbit the inductor, flying around it like moths at a lamp.
1 Decomposing Mercury
This is the weirdest thing you’ve seen today.
Professionally, mercury(II) thiocyanate has few responsibilities. It’s used sparingly in a handful of chemical syntheses, and it has a limited ability to detect chloride in water. But on the side, it’s a pure, unrestrained exhibitionist. When mercury(II) thiocyanate decomposes, it forms carbon nitride and mercury vapor, a terrifyingly toxic mixture. In the 1800s, it was sold as fireworks until several children died from eating it.
But its reputation lived on, and for good reason. There’s no special way to describe what’s happening in this video, other than that heat jump-starts mercury(II)’s decomposition. Putting a flame to the powdery compound starts a chain reaction that only ends in your nightmares. Enjoy.