“Verrückt” is the German word for “insane”. It is a fitting name for the world’s tallest waterslide, which was just opened to the public at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City.
At 168 feet and 7 inches, the Verrückt is taller than Niagara Falls. To get the top you have to climb 268 stairs.
John Schooley was the engineer who designed the slide. Here he is talking about when he and park founder Jeff Henry came up with the idea:
“Basically, we were crazy enough to try anything. We decided to design something entirely new, because we decided to put a three or four man boat down it, and we wanted not only the fastest and steepest water slide going downhill, but we wanted to take it uphill over a hump, to give people a weightless experience going down the other side.”
Schooley was also the first to test out the slide, along with another one of the slide’s engineers. Speaking later about the experience he said, “I was terrified.” Check out video of that first test run below:
That second hill is one of the coolest features of the slide. Because of the speed and momentum you build up going down the first slope (you drop 17 stories in 4 seconds), G-force can feel up to 5 times greater than normal as you travel up the second hump.
G-force is defined as a measurement of acceleration felt as weight. Basically, it’s the perceived increase in gravity you feel because of the fact that you’re accelerating. G-force is what pushes you back into your seat as a plane takes off, for example.
So, when you reach the top of that hump and begin the second drop, you go from feeling like gravity is 5x stronger than normal (5 Gs) to feeling weightless in a split-second. It’s not unlike what astronauts experience when they leave Earth’s atmosphere (although the G-force they feel is many times higher).
The slide was opened to the public this past Friday. Here’s what it looks like to to ride the Verrückt as a member of the public. Garmin VIRB sports camera technology allows you to track speed and heart-rate as you watch:
In 1772, French nobleman and chemist Antoine Lavoisier used a lens to concentrate the sun (magnifying-glass style) on a diamond in an atmosphere of oxygen. The diamond released only carbon dioxide (CO2), proving that diamonds were made up only of carbon.
Then in 1779, English chemist Smithson Tennant further bolstered the findings by burning both graphite (which is also composed completely of carbon) and diamonds, and showing that the amount of gas produced by the two minerals matched the chemical equivalence he had established for them.
From that point on, the race to manufacture a synthetic diamond was on. It become a sort of holy grail for both scientists and scam artists alike at the time.
Individuals claimed to have successfully manufactured diamonds a number of times over the next century and a half, but none of their claims proved to be valid or their experiments reproducible.
Enter Howard Tracy Hall, who typically referred to himself as H. Tracy Hall or simply Tracy Hall.
Hall was born in Ogden, Utah in October of 1919. He was a bright kid: his hero was Thomas Edison and he announced in the fourth grade that he would one day work for General Electric.
After spending two years at Weber College, he got his bachelors and masters at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
He then spent two years in the Navy before heading back to the University of Utah to get his Ph. D. in physical chemistry. He finished the graduate program in 1948.
Just two months later, he realized his childhood dream: GE offered him a position in their Research Lab in New York, working on “Project Superpressure”, which aimed to manufacture a synthetic diamond.
When Hall arrived at the lab in New York, GE was in the process of buying a massive $125,000 press that was capable of generating pressures up to 1.6 million pounds per square inch in a confined space.
Hall wasn’t impressed. He had previously built his own pressure chamber from a salvaged 35-year-old Watson-Stillman press, and thought he could create a better machine with only an additional $1,000.
Unfortunately, GE wasn’t interested. They refused to give him the funds or to even let him use their state-of-the-art machine shop to build it.
But Hall wasn’t going to be stopped. He got a friend and colleague to let him use the machine shop after hours and got a former supervisor to persuade the company to purchase the expensive carboloy (tungsten carbide dispersed in cobalt) that Hall needed to build the chamber.
On December 16, 1954, almost all of the researchers had left for Christmas break. Hall, on the other hand, was in the lab by himself, preparing for final testing of his new pressure chamber. He had experienced a number of false starts, but was stubborn in his pursuit.
He later described the moment when he unsealed his apparatus:
“My hands began to tremble; my heart beat rapidly; my knees weakened and no longer gave support. My eyes had caught the flashing light from dozens of tiny . . . crystals.”
Hall tried the test a couple more times, and got the same result every time. He then had a colleague, Hugh H. Woodbury, reproduce the experiment. He too, created diamonds.
Hall reported his discovery to GE officials. They initially thought his findings were exaggerated, but after being shown the experiment in front of them (with Hall outside the building), they were convinced.
On February 14, 1955, GE announced that it had manufactured the first synthetic diamonds. Media outlets around the world trumpeted it on the front page.
For his efforts, they gave Hall a $10 savings bond. “Big deal,” he said later.
The diamonds weren’t large enough or of high enough quality to be sold as jewelry, but since diamonds are one of the hardest minerals on earth, they were perfect for industrial applications, allowing us to cut and harvest minerals that had been impossible to collect before.
Upset by the lack of credit, Hall left GE for BYU shortly after the announcement. However, the work was so ground-breaking that the government slapped a secret label on Hall’s device, preventing him from using it in his research.
Still, Hall refused to be stopped. He designed a new apparatus, called the tetrahedral press, which was even better than the first one and circumvented all of the patents held by GE.
He published his work on the new pressure chamber in a popular scientific journal. The government responded by slapping another secret label on the new device.
However, the government lifted this second secret label a few months later, allowing Hall access to his invention. He and two other colleagues would later start MegaDiamond, which remains one of the largest synthetic diamond providers to this day.
Since the 1950s, advances in other technologies have improved Hall’s methods, and synthetic diamonds are now used in many electronic devices like laptops and cell phones.
The modern methods are able to create synthetic diamonds as large as 12 carats with much higher quality and clarity, allowing them to be sold for jewelry as well.
After his retirement, Hall became a tree farmer. He passed away at age 88 in July of 2008.
Liquid nitrogen has one of the lowest boiling points of any known substance at -321ºF, which is why anything that comes in contact with the substance is usually flash-frozen.
A substance’s boiling point varies with air pressure. For example, at sea level, water boils at 100ºC (212ºF). But at the top of Mt. Everest, where the air pressure is only about a third of what it is at sea level, water will boil at 71ºC (160ºF).
So as the air is sucked out of the vacuum, the liquid nitrogen’s boiling point drops below the substance’s temperature inside the vacuum, making it a superheated fluid. This superheated liquid nitrogen does some crazy things:
The evaporation of the nitrogen during boiling cools it back down until it freezes solid. In an attempt to align its molecules in a more tightly-packed pattern, all of the atoms will reorient themselves in a fraction of a second, causing cracks to spread quickly in fractal patterns across the solid nitrogen.
Liquid nitrogen isn’t just cool for science experiments. It’s widely used in every day life as a refrigerant for the freezing and transportation of food and as a coolant for superconductors. It’s even used to freeze off skin abnormalities like warts.
Professor Florian Holzapfel and aerospace engineer Tim Fricke are leading a team of researchers at Technische Universität München (TUM), with the goal of creating an aircraft that can be controlled by thought alone.
To do this, the team created a highly specialized helmet covered in electroencephalography electrodes, which are able to record the electrical impulses that come from our brain. These signals are then translated into flight commands using a complex computer algorithm created by scientists at the Berlin Institute of Technology.
A team from the University of Minnesota recently used similar technology to create thought-controlled drones. Check out the video below to see them being tested out.
The idea seems outlandish, but the concept has already been proven to be realistic. The new technology was tested on seven volunteers with varying levels of flight experience (one had no flight experience at all).
Though they were tested on flight simulators, which lack some of the real-life conditions of flight, even the subjects with little to no experience were able to fly well enough to partially fulfill some of the requirements of the actual pilot’s license test. Some of the subjects were even able to land their simulator aircraft in conditions of low visibility.
Fricke’s goal is to make flight more accessible while also creating a safer, more relaxed flying experience:
“A long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people… With brain control, flying, in itself, could become easier. This would reduce the work load of pilots and thereby increase safety. In addition, pilots would have more freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit.”
Fricke and his team still have a number of issues to figure out though. In real flight, for example, pilots feel wind resistance while steering, and if the wind load is significant, pilots have to actually use physical force to maintain smooth navigation. The researchers have not yet figured out how to solve this problem.
Also, no word yet on what happens if you start obsessively worrying about crashing while operating the thought-guided aircraft. Hopefully they’ll look into that as well.
BONUS: The Technische Universität München (TUM), or Technical University of München, has one of the coolest interiors ever, including slides that you can take to get from upper floors back down to the ground floor.
A Prince Rupert’s Drop is simply a drop of molten glass that has been quickly cooled in cold water. Upon first examination, it doesn’t seem very extraordinary, but once you begin to examine the physics behind the drop, things quickly get crazy.
The way in which the glass rapidly cools creates some strange and extreme internal stresses in the drop, which make it behave in logic-defying ways.
Check out the video below from Smarter Every Day to learn more:
They call it the “Raptor”, and its design is largely based on the anatomy and dynamic movement of the velociraptor which roamed the Earth nearly 100 million years ago.
At 46 km/h (26.8 mph), it is the fastest two-footed robot ever, faster even than the world’s fastest man Usian Bolt, whose top speed has been clocked at 43.92 km/h.
The robot, designed by scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), uses a number of elements from nature, including an “achilles tendon” which helps with shock absorption and a tail which assists with balance.
These features allow the robot to navigate over obstacles without hardly breaking stride.
However, the robot is still confined to the treadmill, needing a bar for support.
For more, check out the original story from the International Business Times here.
Even if you couldn’t tell me the first thing about physics, you’re probably familiar with the equation E=mc2, Einstein’s famous theory of relativity that hypothesized (based off extensive observations) that light could be converted into matter and vice verse.
Then, in the 1930s, Gregory Breit and John A. Wheeler expanded on Einstein’s theory, arguing that it should be theoretically possible to accomplish this transformation using just two photons.
However, until very recently, it was thought that actually turning light into matter with just two photons was virtually impossible, since it would require colliding the two infinitesimally small light particles (which technically have no mass or volume) with one another, an extremely difficult task.
The breakthrough came in a scholarly article published in the journal Nature Photonics on May 18th which described a groundbreaking new “photon-collider”. The collider works by heating up a golden vacuum tube known as a hohlraum (a hohlraum is basically just a vacuum in which the radiative energy in the walls and the interior of the vacuum are at equilibrium).
As the hohlraum is heated, it begins emitting photons. Once there’s a significant “cloud” of photons in the hohlraum, a high energy laser is shot at another piece of gold. This laser heats up the gold target until it starts shooting gamma rays (photons) at extremely high speeds into the hohlraum.
If one of these high-energy photons collides with one of the photons in the hohlraum, the two annihilate one another, creating an electron and a positron, the electron’s antimatter equivalent which carries a positive charge (think of it as an anti-electron). Conversely, when an electron and a positron collide at high speeds, they annihilate to form pure energy, in the form of two photons.
Now that the process of colliding photons has been proven to be experimentally possible in the lab, physicists across the globe will be scrambling to be the first to successfully convert light into matter.
You don’t typically think of wood as being a very good conductor of electricity. However, if you turn the voltage high enough, you can force an electric current to flow through the wood.
The current splits into endless fractals, creating Lichtenberg figures which resemble trees growing in realtime- the effect is amazing. Check out the video below to see for yourself (the current is at 15,000 volts):
The mission statement on Aerofex’s website says that their goal is to “democratize flight”. To accomplish that goal, the California-based company has designed a line of crafts that fuse the ducted rotor design of hovercrafts with the easy maneuverability of a motorcycle or ATV.
The vehicle, known as the Aero-X, is able to travel at speeds of 45 mph while hovering up to 3.7 meters (12.1 feet) above the ground, allowing riders to travel with speed and comfort over rougher, unpaved terrain.
Aerofex faced a number of problems when trying to design a craft that could easily be operated by people with little to no flight experience. Here’s Mark De Roche, chief technology officer and founder of Aerofex:
“We’ve done a lot of work to learn how to remove the coupling effect. That’s the key for someone who only has motorcycle experience to be able to get on it and feel comfortable right away.”
De Roche is referring to the phenomenon that sometimes occurs with open rotor vehicles like helicopters: when a pilot pushes the thrust forward to accelerate, the aerodynamics of the spinning rotor causes the craft to pitch slightly left as well.
The Aero-X was able to solve this problem, creating a craft that can be easily maneuvered using motorcycle-like handlebars. A “knee-bar” detects which direction the pilot leans in: leaning forward moves the craft forward and leaning back slows it down.
The video below shows early tests of the Aero-X prototype.
While the product is still in the development stages, De Roche predicts that the version that hits markets in 2017 will be able to carry over 300 pounds and run for around 75 minutes on a full tank of gas.
The price tag is set at $85,000, and if you’re willing to thrown down $5,000 right now you can reserve one.
Here are a few concept images of what the Aero-X will look like when development is complete. Click an image to enlarge.