Non-Newtonian Gravy: When weird science and Thanksgiving collide

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LABELLE — You might remember the puking pumpkins from the LaBelle Middle School Science Club last year. Their advisor, Kelly Erskin, had come up with the hilariously fun-yet-educational, Halloween-themed science experiment, and the kids absolutely loved it. But this year, instead of creating more sickly squash, they came up with the ultimate Thanksgiving project.

“What do a Dr. Seuss book and ballistic-resistant gravy have in common?” asked Erskin. “OOBLECK!”

Arguably one of the most important ingredients for delicious turkey gravy, cornstarch is also the key to making Oobleck, a substance named after a Dr. Seuss book called “Bartholomew and the Oobleck.” It’s easily made at home by simply combining two parts cornstarch to one part water.

“Oobleck is a substance that can mimic the qualities of a solid or a liquid. It’s considered “non-Newtonian” because a Newtonian fluid has a constant viscosity (or thickness), whereas Oobleck does not!” explained Erskin.

Applying pressure to Oobleck increases its viscosity. So, quickly tapping your finger on the surface of Oobleck will make it feel hard, as it forces the cornstarch particles together. But if you slowly push a finger into the mixture, it will slide in easily. Moving slowly gives the cornstarch particles time to move out of the way.

“Did you know an Air Force Academy cadet named Hayley Weir came up with the idea of using a substance similar to Oobleck to enhance existing types of body armor?” asked Erskin. “Amazingly, her idea was a success!”

Using a KitchenAid mixer, Weir created a test batch of her black, viscous, gooey gravy of sorts. She then put it into in vacuum-sealed bags into a quarter-inch layer and paired it with Kevlar fabric. The test batch was able to stop a .44 Magnum bullet.

“It’s the properties of non-Newtonian fluids that do this,” Weir explained.

“So this Thanksgiving, as you pour gravy on your mashed potatoes, remember, that gravy is not only delicious, it’s OOBLECK!” Erskin joked, “and it could also possibly be bulletproof!”

Note that technically, if your gravy is still non-Newtonian, it’s undercooked. The LaBelle Middle School Science Club wishes everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

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