The study of how the properties of matter arise from its structure at all scales and of how processing can be used to modify those properties (often in pursuit of a specific application).

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199
votes
11answers
43k views

Why don't metals bond when touched together?

It is my understanding that metals are a crystal lattice of ions, held together by delocalized electrons, which move freely through the lattice (and conduct electricity, heat, etc.). If two pieces ...
130
votes
3answers
16k views

How does a knife cut things at the atomic level?

As the title says. It is common sense that sharp things cut, but how do they work at the atomical level?
77
votes
9answers
14k views

Why does matter exist in 3 states (liquids, solid, gas)?

Why does matter on the earth exist in three states? Why cannot all matter exist in only one state (i.e. solid/liquid/gas)?
71
votes
5answers
11k views

Why wet is dark?

When something gets wet, it usually appears darker. This can be observed with soil, sand, cloth, paper, concrete, bricks ... What is the reason for this? How does water soaking into the material ...
43
votes
8answers
52k views

Will a hole cut into a metal disk expand or shrink when the disc is heated?

Suppose you take a metal disc and cut a small, circular hole in the center. When you heat the whole thing, will the hole's diameter increase or decrease? and why?
31
votes
2answers
5k views

Is ice a type of glass?

It's kind of a tricky concept I assume, on one side you got those neat shared vertices of SiO2, on the other (water) you don't really have shared vertices, only kinda (but they still want to align ...
30
votes
1answer
10k views

Why does paper become translucent when smeared with oil but not (so much) with water?

When I smear oil onto a scrap of paper and rub it in, the paper becomes quite translucent; but when I attempt the same with water it doesn't as much. Why?
25
votes
3answers
13k views

If aerographite is lighter than air, why doesn't it float?

Air is 6 times denser than aerographite but looking at pictures or videos presenting the material, I see it resting on tables rather than raising to the ceiling. Also, since the material is made of ...
24
votes
2answers
919 views

Why is tape so hard to rip when it is not broken, but so easy once there is the tiniest cut in it?

Question says it all. Ripping a piece of tape along the width is tough, stretches the tape, messes it up, etc, but if you put the tiniest nick at the top, it rips without any problems. Why is that?
21
votes
4answers
3k views

Is one way glass possible?

I am not talking about mirrors, just a plain window made of glass like material. Would it be possible to allow light pass only in one direction but not the other?
20
votes
2answers
3k views

Melting diamond and cool down as diamond

Is it possible to melt diamond? And if possible while let it cool will it became diamond again?
20
votes
3answers
6k views

Roughly how many atoms thick is the layer of graphite left by a pencil writing on paper?

Actually I can't expand much as the question pretty much explains the query. I would be interested in the method of estimating an answer as well as a potential way to measure it experimentally. ...
20
votes
1answer
380 views

How many molecules rub off when I press a key?

I have a lot of questions below but my overarching questions are: Do surfaces rubbing lightly together always strip molecules off of each other? and How can we model that? Clearly the answer to the ...
19
votes
3answers
7k views

Why can't a piece of paper (of non-zero thickness) be folded more than $N$ times?

Updated: In order to fold anything in half, it must be $\pi$ times longer than its thickness, and that depending on how something is folded, the amount its length decreases with each fold differs. ...
19
votes
3answers
4k views

How does paper make sound when it is torn?

We know that from our experience when we tear up a piece of paper, we can hear a characteristic sound. What is the underlying mechanism behind it? What do the dominant frequencies (edit: I don't mean ...
17
votes
5answers
2k views

Why is the surface of the Moon white?

Why is the surface of the Moon white? Rather, what makes the surface white?
17
votes
3answers
4k views

Is it possible to avoid the radiation that caused the American flag turned into white on the Moon? [closed]

While lunar images have proven that the American flags planted during the Apollo missions are still standing on the moon, lunar scientists have now said that they probably no longer hold the iconic ...
17
votes
4answers
5k views

Does extreme cold make **everything** extremely brittle?

First of all, I'm genuinely sorry if this question isn't "serious" enough for this forum! A common cliche in movies and tv is that a very tough object (eg the villain) is frozen, and then hit with ...
15
votes
1answer
4k views

Equation describing magnetic hysteresis

So when you're looking at B-H curves for ferromagnetic substances, you often see these magnetic hysteresis curves, which occur, I gather, largely because of domain formation which has some reversible ...
15
votes
3answers
749 views

Why would different metals glow red at different temperatures?

According to everything I've been taught about incandescence and black-body radiation, and some quick Googling to confirm I'm not crazy, just about everything, regardless of composition, should start ...
14
votes
4answers
1k views

Are insulators and conductors arbitrary categories?

I have seen charts showing the transition from insulator to semi-conductor is at $10^{-8}~\frac{\text{S}}{\text{cm}}$ and between semi-conductor and conductor is $10^{3}~\frac{\text{S}}{\text{cm}}$. ...
14
votes
4answers
3k views

Are there limits for the speed of sound? A maximum or a minimum only?

The speed of sound in materials of various states of matter differs a lot. But does it have fundamental limits? Is there a maximal possible speed of sound? Is there a minimal possible speed of ...
14
votes
2answers
2k views

Why is paper more frangible when it is wet?

My four-year-old daughter asked me why paper tends to fall apart when wet, and I wasn't sure. I speculated that the water lubricates the paper fibers so that they can untangle and separate more ...
13
votes
2answers
900 views

How is graphene a 2D substance?

How is graphene a 2D substance? It has length, width and some thickness to it, else it would be invisible. Why is it considered a 2D substance?
13
votes
1answer
175 views

Synthesis of Fe-based superconductors

Polycrystal cuprate superconductors are generally prepared by solid state reactions: Starting reagents are in powder form, they are mixed to each other and placed into furnace on high temperature ...
12
votes
3answers
1k views

Why don't metals damp vibrations?

Fluid damps vibrations due to viscous dissipation. Does anyone has any insight on a molecular, microscopic level about the reasons that vibration damping of metals is negligible?
12
votes
3answers
3k views

Why are materials that are better at conducting electricity also proportionately better at conducting heat?

It seems like among the electrical conductors there's a relationship between the ability to conduct heat as well as electricity. Eg: Copper is better than aluminum at conducting both electricity and ...
12
votes
3answers
679 views

What are the rules for breaking a glass with your voice?

So, this morning I woke up and remembered something I discussed about with one of my friends: Can human voice really break a wine glass? So I looked it up and after checking many websites and ...
12
votes
3answers
1k views

Can the speed of light become complex inside a metamaterial?

The speed of light in a material is defined as $c = \frac{1}{\sqrt{\epsilon \mu}}$. There are metamaterials with negative permittivity $\epsilon < 0$ and permeability $\mu < 0$ at the same time. ...
12
votes
2answers
1k views

Are synthetically-produced diamonds as hard as natural diamonds?

I was having a discussion with my friend about the intrinsic worthlessness of diamonds (DeBeers and whatnot) and how synthetic diamonds haven't caught on, again because of the marketing/propoganda ...
12
votes
1answer
228 views

Third-order susceptibilities of metals?

Can anyone point me to a source for measurements of the third-order nonlinear electric susceptibilities $\chi^{(3)}$ of various metals? Specifically in relation to the AC Kerr effect, so measurements ...
11
votes
3answers
6k views

Why can one bend glass fiber?

Why can one bend glass fibers without breaking it, whereas glasses one comes across in real life is usually solid? Is there also a good high-school level explanation of this?
11
votes
1answer
498 views

Why does plastic turn white in the area of stress?

There is a phenomenon with plastic in which it changes color to white in areas where stress is applied. When I bend a plastic rod the area in the centre, it turns white or loses colour. Why does this ...
10
votes
3answers
5k views

What determines the color of a pure substance and is it possible to predict it?

I have always wondered why salt is white, water is clear and gold is, well, gold. What determines the color of a substance? Does it have something to do with the electrons? And is it possible to ...
10
votes
3answers
840 views

Can a building get taller at night?

UberFacts recently tweeted "Office buildings are taller at night—a 1,300-foot-tall skyscraper shrinks about 1.5 millimeters under the weight of 50,000 occupants." Is what they are saying valid? It ...
10
votes
3answers
38k views

Hollow Tube Stronger than Solid bar of same Outside Diameter (O.D.)?

I was listening to some co-workers talking about problems meeting stiffness requirements. Someone said that even with a solid metal rod (instead of the existing tube) we could not meet stiffness ...
10
votes
1answer
408 views

Why does finely cut paper curl?

When paper is cut to a small width, it curls up like this. Why does this happen?
9
votes
2answers
261 views

Ferromagnetism with mobile spins

How can electron spins in Iron at room temperature have ferromagnetic order even though they are travelling at very high speeds? One could argue that spin and motion are completely uncorrelated and ...
8
votes
4answers
12k views

Does glass get stronger the longer its under water?

I was reading the internets and I saw an image of of random facts. Yes, I know, its a humor site, but based on the image item #23 I have some questions. Does glass really get stronger the longer its ...
8
votes
7answers
532 views

Is it possible to cut harder material with a less hard material?

Is it possible to cut harder material with a less hard material - for example cut a steel rod with iron blade ?
8
votes
1answer
1k views

physics of wet hair

I'm curious about the physics behind the clumping of wet hair. More specifically, how the amount of water in hair and distance between hairs affect the clumping process. I know intuitively that when ...
8
votes
2answers
738 views

How does infrared light 'erase' phosphorescence on zinc sulfide?

I found some sheets of zinc sulfide in my basement that phosphoresce green for up to 24 hours or so after exposure to bright light in the violet range or shorter. One of the first things I tried was ...
8
votes
3answers
813 views

Is an atom-thick sheet of a material visible and tangible?

If one could make a sheet of a material (thickness of an atom), Aluminum for example, would it be visible to naked eyes? What about tangibility? would it be tactile by human finger skin?
8
votes
4answers
106 views

Can a material made of a heavier isotope of an element become harder or stronger?

I was wondering if any experiments have been done to measure if there is a change in the hardness or strength of a material made solely of a heavier isotope of an element which is a constituent of the ...
8
votes
2answers
285 views

Shape of wall's deformation wave caused by baseball's impact

Clicking through this year's top sports pictures, I stumbled upon this one. I was wondering about the shape the baseball is leaving on the wall. What phenomenon causes this peculiar shape? Why is ...
8
votes
0answers
109 views

Is there a database or a classification of High-temperature superconductors?

I was wondering if there exists a list with all (or most of) the High-$T_c$ superconductor materials. In particular I'd like to know if there are databases or review that classifies them by their ...
8
votes
0answers
982 views

Why is the AdS/CFT approach to superconductors rarely cited in condensed matter publications?

Let me put things into perspective by comparing with other applications of string theory. Nowadays review papers written by cosmologists about inflation models often discuss string theory scenarios ...
7
votes
3answers
216 views

Are there materials that get softer with temperature decrease?

Could be there material that begins melting/softening when it's temperature is lowered? I would say no, but I've seen enough physics to know that not always life is so easy. Moreover I think I've ...
7
votes
3answers
671 views

Why does foam dull knives?

I have recently taken up prop making and just started my first foam-built costume from a video game. These kinds of costume armour builds are often built out of the various foam floor mats you can buy ...
7
votes
3answers
3k views

Is there a Tungsten alloy more dense than gold?

This thought came from researching a previous question. In the spirit of our get-rich-quick scheming I looked up element densities and prices near gold. Element (g/cm^3) (dollars/kg) Uranium ...