Friday, July 31, 2009

Stinkiness is next to Bounciness. (Cool Things I Never Learned In School 4)

When we were kids, we played "Superball Baseball" against the garage door. The rules were simple: Bounce the Superball off the driveway into the door, and the other guy had to catch it. If he caught it in the air, you were out. If he caught it after one bounce, it was a single, and so on.

We used superballs for a couple of reasons -- first, because the tiny little black dot they left on the garage door was smaller, which meant that it would take longer for my dad to realize we were doing that again and get mad at us for wrecking the paint job on the garage door, and second because superballs, as everyone knows, bounce higher and farther than any other ball.

I knew that superballs were better at bouncing than other balls, but I didn't know why until the other day. Despite 16 years of schooling that had science classes of one sort or another (law school doesn't count for this one: no science) I never learned why it was that superballs bounce so much higher than other balls.

Now I know: It's because Superballs are made with "sulfur bridges." They have extra amounts of sulfur mixed in with the rubber, which is all then superheated and formed into the ball. Rubber, when it bounces, stretches and bends and distorts -- but putting sulfur in helps restrain all that rubber movement. So putting more sulfur in presents more movement, which means that the rubber in a superball barely distorts.

That, in turn, means that the energy in a superball -- energy imparted by throwing or dropping it -- isn't used up by all the motion in the rubber and is free to be used up by bouncing the superball higher and higher. Superballs direct 92% of their energy to the bounce -- way higher than other balls, and all because of that extra sulfur.

I learned this watching a "Technology of the 60s" show on the History channel while I was jogging the other night. So:

School: 0. TV: 1.

Added Information: The original name applied to the rubber used in the Superball? "Zectron!" Science should use names like that more often.

1 comment:

lisapepin said...

"School: 0. TV: 1." I'd love to see school vs. TV be a regular feature on your blog.