Non-Newtonian Pothole Patch
Potholes are a pain (sometimes literally) and are not easy to repair. Patches requires specially trained workers and equipment, and completely resurfacing a road obviously takes a lot more work and time. Fortunately it does not take specially trained researchers to come up with a fast, cheap, and easy temporary solution that holds until the trained workers can repair the road.
Undergraduate students at Case Western Reserve University were trying to think of a common problem to try to solve, and settled on potholes. (Also being in the Cleveland area, I understand why this would come to mind when trying to think of the world’s problems.) While considering solutions, they thought of the unusual physics of non-Newtonian fluids, which can act like solids under certain circumstances. Though normally the materials are liquid and will flow just like water, the right kind of force causes them to resist external forces. One moment you can pour it out a glass and the next you can run and even jump on it, then pour it out of a glass again.
All non-Newtonian fluids contain particles, and it is how they interact which cause the unusual properties. Different particles create different properties and the particles the students decided on not only are able to support a car but also are biodegradable and nontoxic. To make the pothole patch one needs only add the particles in powder form to water inside of a sturdy bag. A piece of black adhesive fabric covers the patch, so drivers don’t think it is hazard of some kind. When the pothole is repaired, the bag can be emptied, cleaned, and reused.
Thus far, tests on Cleveland roads have been successful, but the students have not yet put their invention up against a Midwest winter. If it survives that, then I am sure it will only be a matter of time before a commercial product hits the streets.