The Future of Pothole Repair Is Silly Putty

Fixing a hole in a road should be easy—but the fact that our nation's highways are littered with potholes is testament to the fact that it's not quite as straightforward as it sounds. But a new solution, inspired by silly putty, could make our streets much smoother in the future.

In fact, the idea—developed by students from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland—has won an engineering contest, reports Science. But prize-winning or not, the idea of mending a road with something like silly putty sounds like madness, right?

Well, not really. Because silly putty is a non-Newtonian fluid: it don't follow the rules that others fluids, like water or oil, do. Instead, depending on how hard it's compressed, its material properties change. Squeeze silly putty gently, and it's malleable and fun to play with. Throw it hard at a wall, and it stiffens and bounces—instead of splatting against the wall like you might expect.

Currently, pot holes are time consuming to repair, and even then the results don't last long. Instead, the team of students has developed a fluid—inspired by the behavior of silly putty—that can be used to do the job instead.

They've developed prototype repair kits: bags of the fluid that come in different sizes, to be dropped into whatever pothole is encountered. A little camouflage in the form of an adhesive patch over the top, and the road is flat and smooth as new. The fluid-filled bag moulds to the shape of the hole but is super-solid when driven over by cars.

While it's been tested on roads around the university, it's yet to be fully embraced commercially, and there are still a few concerns about how long the fluid could hold up in the long term. But as a quick-fix solution—and damn, we need one—it just might work. [Science]

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