Also known as frozen smoke, Aerogel is the world’s lowest density solid, clocking in at 96% air. It’s basically just a gel made from silicon, except all the liquid has been taken out and replaced with gas instead. If you hold a small piece in your hand, it’s practically impossible to either see or feel, but if you poke it, it’s like styrofoam.
Aerogel isn’t just neat, it’s useful. It supports up to 4,000 times its own weight and can apparently withstand a direct blast from two pounds of dynamite. It’s also the best insulator in existence, which is why we don’t have Aerogel jackets: it works so well that people were complaining about overheating on Mt. Everest.
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Inside these sealed glass balls live shrimp, algae, and bacteria, all swimming around in filtered seawater. Put it somewhere with some light, and this little ecosystem will chug along happily for years, no feeding or cleaning necessary, totally oblivious to the fact that the rest of the world exists outside.
EcoSpheres came out of research looking at ways to develop self-contained ecosystems for long duration space travel. They’re like little microcosms for the entire world, man. But ask yourself: are we the shrimp, or the algae?
Price: $80 for the smallest
The Gömböc is a self-righting object, which means that no matter which way you put it down, it stands itself back up. It’s like a Weeble, except it doesn’t cheat by having a weight at the bottom, and it’s the only shape that can do this.
The existence of a shape with these properties was conjectured in 1995, but it took ten years for someone to figure out how to actually make one that worked. And then everyone was embarrassed when it turned out that turtles had evolved this same basic shape in their shells a long time ago, to make it easier for them to roll themselves back over if they get flipped.
Gallium is a silvery metal with atomic number 31. It’s used in semiconductors and LEDs, but the cool thing about it is its melting point, which is only about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If you hold a solid gallium crystal in your hand, your body heat will cause it to slowly melt into a silvery metallic puddle. Pour it into a dish, and it freezes back into a solid.
While you probably shouldn’t lick your fingers after playing with it, gallium isn’t toxic and won’t make you crazy like mercury does. And if you get tired of it, you can melt it onto glass and make yourself a mirror.
By themselves, Miracle berries don’t taste like much. The reason to eat them is that they contain a chemical called miraculin that binds to the sweet taste receptors on your tongue, changing their shape and making them respond to sour and acidic foods.
The upshot of this effect is that some things you eat taste spectacularly different. Straight Tabasco sauce tastes like donut glaze. Guinness tastes like a chocolate malt. Goat cheese tastes like cheesecake. After about an hour of craziness, your taste buds go back to normal, no harm done.