A few years back I watched a great documentary titled The Science of Superman and it answered a lot of questions about the man in blue. Recently I was reading about the researchers working at Moratex in Poland who invented a non-Newtonian fluid for use in complex body armor and it got me thinking.
A non-Newtonian, shear thickening, or a dilatant material is one that is soft and flexible until a force is quickly applied to it. These materials are solids that have been suspended in liquid without dissolving. When stirred slowly the mixture acts like a liquid and is fluid but if you try to stir it too fast you won’t be able to generate enough force to do it. Basically the faster the force is applied the harder the material becomes. Cornstarch and water is a perfect example and if any of you have attended a child’s science fair you know how cool it is to play with. Dip your finger in it slowly and it acts like a liquid but hit it with a hammer and it acts like a solid!
This video made by the University of Chicago explains all about Newtonian versus non-Newtonian materials and shows a cornstarch and water experiment for illustration.
Since the early 2000’s when the researchers in Poland began their work with non-Newtonian fluids more and more uses have been found for the technology. Patents are popping up all over the world and not just for body armor. There are way too many shear thickening fluid applications to list but here’s one video that was put out by the Association of Research Libraries to give a couple of good examples of the applications that are out there. What all this means of course is that Superman’s suit could have been made with fabric (perhaps Kevlar or nylon) that was impregnated with a dilatant fluid! I’m not saying that shear thickening technology answers all the questions about the power behind the Kryptonian fabric but it could explain why it’s impenetrable.