Strange matter at the Hong Kong Science Museum lets you get handsy with learning

Strange matter at the Hong Kong Science Museum lets you get handsy with learning

The Hong Kong Science Museum has a special exhibition about material sciences. Wong Tsui-kai spent the day there to get a hands-on education about this new field of study

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Forget about "look but don't touch". The Hong Kong Science Museum allows you to really geta grasp of material science.
Forget about "look but don't touch". The Hong Kong Science Museum allows you to really geta grasp of material science.
Photo: Nora Tam

coverscience02.artg1kg5qbd.1scmp21jan15ypexhibition11nora5477.jpg

Forget about "look but don't touch". The Hong Kong Science Museum allows you to really geta grasp of material science.
Forget about "look but don't touch". The Hong Kong Science Museum allows you to really geta grasp of material science.
Photo: Nora Tam

coverscience02.artg1kg5qbd.1scmp21jan15ypexhibition4nora5418.jpg

Forget about "look but don't touch". The Hong Kong Science Museum allows you to really geta grasp of material science.
Forget about "look but don't touch". The Hong Kong Science Museum allows you to really geta grasp of material science.
Photo: Nora Tam

coverscience02.artg1kg5qbd.1scmp21jan15ypexhibition10nora5473.jpg

Forget about "look but don't touch". The Hong Kong Science Museum allows you to really geta grasp of material science.
Forget about "look but don't touch". The Hong Kong Science Museum allows you to really geta grasp of material science.
Photo: Nora Tam

coverscience02.artg1kg5qbd.1scmp21jan15ypexhibition6nora5436.jpg

Forget about "look but don't touch". The Hong Kong Science Museum allows you to really geta grasp of material science.
Forget about "look but don't touch". The Hong Kong Science Museum allows you to really geta grasp of material science.
Photo: Nora Tam

If you throw a bowling ball into a pane of glass, it doesn't normally end well for the glass. But if the glass is tempered glass, then not only does it survive, it makes a loud bang that will be sure to wake up your neighbours.

The Hong Kong Science Museum is currently hosting a very interesting special exhibition called Strange Matter. It features new materials such as tempered glass, ferrofluids, amorphous metals, and memory alloys. We visited the museum to check out some of these interesting exhibits.

The tempered glass is one of the highlights of the show. This is the very tough glass used for making windows, cookware, and even basketball backboards. Here, you can try to smash the glass with a bowling ball.

But with more than 200,000 attempts at smashing and not a crack to be seen, it's likely that visitors will just have to keep trying.

Another interesting thing to see is an exhibit featuring ferrofluids. Iron particles are mixed in a fluid, and when they are exposed to a magnetic field, they clump up to form strange patterns.

By moving magnets around, you can change the patterns for yourself. Scientists use these ferrofluids to make airtight seals in computer hard drives and for shock absorbers in DVD players.

The amorphous metals exhibit is about super-hard metal that is used in surgical scalpels and mobile phone shells. You can see how hard the metal is by bouncing a steel ball off different materials, such as tin, iron and steel. When you bounce the ball on the amorphous metal, it continues to bounce long after the others have stopped.

One exhibit is similar to the claw game from an arcade. It lets you learn about memory alloys. By heating different strips of metal, you can move the claw arm to push a ball into a hole.

It shows how memory metals can go back to their original shape when they are heated. This is why they are used to make frames for eyeglasses, which can easily get bent.

The show has many other educational exhibits, such as one on various types of foam including Aerogel, the lightest material in the world, which is used for collecting space dust on spacecraft.

You can also learn how they make silicon processors from sand.

There is also a group of "touch tables" where you can get your hands on different materials.

Another section lets you see common materials under varying levels of magnification, from magnifying glass to microscope, giving you a closer look at the world around you.

The field of material sciences is all about changing the atomic and molecular structures of common substances to create new materials, and then finding uses for them to improve our everyday lives.

Wister Tsui Wai-tak, assistant curator for the museum, says: "Material scientists work with the tiniest bits of matter - molecules and atoms - to improve stuff or even create completely new materials that can do amazing things."

Even though it gives us great products, not many people know about material sciences, so the museum wants to change that.

"The Science Museum would like to introduce material sciences to the public through this exhibition. We want people to learn the science behind the materials we use every day, and learn how these materials enhance science and technology," says Tsui.

"By raising awareness of the field, we hope to create opportunities for breakthroughs."

So if you're looking to study science in university, consider material science. As Tsui says: "Research into the field is like opening a can of potential."

Strange Matter will run at the Science Museum until April 15. Head to the Hong Kong Science Museum website for more details

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Strange matter

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