A library of the world's most unusual compounds

Joshua Foer is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Joshua is a freelance science journalist and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Dylan Thuras.

materialskingscollege.jpgGeorge Pendle has done a nice write-up of the Materials Library at King's College London for the Finanical Times. It's a place I badly want to visit on my next trip to London:

Deep in the bowels of a brutalist concrete building on the Strand, long shelves are packed – crammed, really – with some of the world's strangest substances, from the past, present and sometimes, it seems, the future. Take Aerogel: the world's lightest solid consists of 99.8 per cent air and looks like a vague, hazy mass. And yet despite its insubstantial nature, it is remarkably strong; and because of its ability to nullify convection, conduction and radiation, it also happens to be the best insulator in the world. Sitting next to the Aerogel is its thermal opposite, a piece of aluminium nitride, which is such an effective conductor of heat that if you grasp a blunt wafer of it in your hand, the warmth of your body alone allows it to cut through ice. Nearby are panes of glass that clean themselves, metal that remembers the last shape it was twisted into, and a thin tube of Tin Stick which, when bent, emits a sound like a human cry. There's a tub of totally inert fluorocarbon liquid into which any electronic device can be placed and continue to function. The same liquid has been used to replace the blood in lab rats, which also, oddly enough, continue to function… All these, and more than 900 others, including everyday materials suchas aluminium, steel and copper, are here for one purpose – to instil a sense of wonder in the visitor.

A Library of the World's Most Unusual Compounds