A group of students from Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University has come up with an ingenious way to fill up potholes, the enemy of car suspension systems the world over. Their solution hails from the gooey child’s toy Silly Putty.
The students devised the idea for a contest organised by French materials company Saint-Gobain. Participants were tasked with creating a novel product from simple materials.
The Case Western Reserve undergraduates took first prize for a batter made of corn starch and water that behaves like liquid when poured into potholes, but becomes solid when a car runs across it.
The reason is that the mixture is a non-Newtonian fluid which means that its resistance varies according to the force applied to it.
“When there’s no force being applied to it, it flows like a liquid does and fills in the holes,” explained student Curtis Obert in an interview with Science magazine, “but when it gets run over, it acts like a solid.”
Currently, potholes are filled in with asphalt, which is messy, time consuming and requires a number of personnel. This new method is simplicity itself.
The powdered mixture is stored in specially designed waterproof bags and when a hole needs to be filled, water is added to a bag which is then sealed and dropped into place.
Top Secret Formula
The students hope to patent their invention and so they are not revealing the exact formulation. However, they say it’s even safe enough to eat, although not particularly tasty.
It has performed well in limited road tests in Cleveland, though more will be need to be carried out to see how their innovation holds up in the long term and in different weather conditions.