New fluid-like state of matter

Dig this: Some scientists have created a new form of matter using a bunch of regular sand and a falling marble. They packed the sand loosely in a container, dropped the marble in, and observed it using a super-fast, 5,000-frames-per-second x-ray camera. They found that the sand was behaving like an ultra-cold gas — because the sand grains displayed very little randomness in the way they moved.

The thing is, normally you have to cool materials down to nearly absolute zero — minus 497.6 degrees Fahrenheit — to strip the randomness out of them. But this sand was just room temperature. You could do the same thing with a coffee can and marble in your kitchen, though you wouldn’t be able to spy the particularly coolest feature of the jet of sand that sticks up in the air: It’s hollow. As one of the scientists said in their press release:

“One of the biggest questions that we have still not solved is why this jet is so sharply delineated. Why are there these beautiful boundaries? Why isn’t this whole thing just falling apart,” Jaeger asked.

(Thanks to Steve Emrich for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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