Shaan Singh-Prahar (13) and Jerram Bryant (12) created quite a stir at the 2009 NIWA science fair held in Hamilton. The two Year 8 boys from Fairfield Intermediate won with their science project ‘Howzaat!!’, an investigation into using oobleck (a cornflour and water mixture named after a substance in a Dr Seuss book) and flubber (a rubbery slime) to replace conventional cricket protection gear.
Oobleck and flubber and are both non-Newtonian fluids – their viscosity changes when force is applied. At rest, they are like thick fluids, but hit them hard and they become solid.
The problem with cricket pads
Conventional cricket pads are bulky and rigid. The boys’ idea was to use a non-Newton fluid-based pad to allow for greater flexibility, but if hit with a ball, the sudden impact would turn the liquid into a solid. Shaan explained, “On the market, there is nothing flexible and light for us – it’s all bulky stuff.”
Shaan and Jerram hoped one of the two liquids might make a good substitute for the traditional pad. They hypothesised that flubber would be the better of the two because it was more flexible, but found that in fact oobleck had the greater potential.
Competing against high school students, the boys not only won their category in technology, they also took out the top overall prize. The win itself is impressive, but even more so considering that the category is normally won by Year 12 and 13 students. The boys were pretty amazed when they won – they hadn’t expected to win their category, let alone the overall prize. Their friends and families also think it was pretty cool.
Where to from here?
Jerram and Shaan are looking into patenting their idea – they can envision oobleck being used in all cricket protection pads and gloves. The boys don’t see themselves as scientists despite having achieved such great results, and can’t imagine being scientists when they grow up. Shaan would rather be a cricket player, and Jerram thinks that rugby or maybe a career as a police officer is in his future.