Imperial College London

Goo that goes from liquid to solid when shaken created by Imperial researchers


Scientists have created a liquid goo that turns into a rubbery solid when shaken and they are inviting the public to help dream up uses for it.

The researchers from Imperial call the goo a shake-gel and it can return from a solid to a liquid in anywhere between one minute and three days, depending on the composition of the formula. Visitors can play with the shake-gel at the Imperial Fringe: The Atoms Family event, which will be held on 16 March at 5pm in the College’s Main Entrance in South Kensington. 

The researchers, from Imperial’s Department of Chemical Engineering, stumbled on the shake-gel when they were experimenting in the lab with new types of materials. They were mixing clays with a type of polymer called polyethyeleneoxide, to determine its properties. They decided to switch the clay with a synthetic substitute conststing of nano silica particles, which have similar properties. 

“Serendipity is a beautiful thing."

– Professor Paul Luckham

Department of Chemical Engineering

There are no definite applications for the shake-gel yet, but the team think its unusual properties could be useful in a range of applications. For instance, if they made an edible version it could be a more environmentally friendly chewing gum, which returns to a liquid form when disposed of, making it easier to remove from pavements. The team will be asking visitors to the Fringe to dream up other potential applications for the shake-gel.

Professor Paul Luckham said: “Serendipity is a beautiful thing, especially when you lead a lab. We are still experimenting with the shake-gel to fully understand its properties and its potential, but it certainly displays some unique qualities that we are hoping to explore further. We can’t wait for Fringe-goers to have a play with it and help us dream up some uses for it.”

The shake-gel is part of a group of substances called non-Newtonian fluids. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton described how ‘normal’ liquids or fluids behave, and he observed that they have a constant viscosity. Non-Newtonian fluids don’t follow the rule. They change their viscosity or flow behaviour under stress.

The Imperial team have noted that their shake-gel is exhibiting some unusual non-Newtownian attributes. For example, on some occasions the shake gel can increase its viscosity or stickiness by a million fold from a water-like consistency when stirred instead of shaken. On other occasions the goo can be mixed for hours in its liquid form, with no change in the material, before suddenly going gooey in a matter of seconds.

Imperial Fringe: The Atoms Family

Professor Luckham and a team of students will be on hand with the shake-gel at the Fringe to talk about their latest discovery.

The event will also explore how scientists are harnessing the power of molecules to secure our energy supply and limit climate change, develop new high performing compounds such as the shake-gel that will improve our lives, and the biochemistry that could prolong them.

A debate between leading professors of chemistry also takes place as part of the event, and is being live-streamed via Periscope if you are unable to attend in person.


Colin Smith

Colin Smith
Communications and Public Affairs

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