Students Preparing a Changing Earth

Turning Sand into a Liquid Without Melting It

At the Royal Institute in London, they are demonstrating an experiment that proves we could use boats to travel across deserts. Well, not really, but it’s the closest thing to liquid sand. The experiment involves compressed air, fine sand, and a special bed. Fascinatingly, it results in alien sand on which objects float and bob just as if it was water. 

Rubber Ducky in Fluidized SandAn experiment first recorded in 1959 also at the Royal Institute, it is still used today to teach students about how solids melt. Although the analogy apparently doesn’t translate well, it’s worth explaining.

The container around the sand is called a fluidized bed, and it houses distributors that control the flow of air into the sand. These distributors are connected to compressed air, and once turned on, blow air gently through the sand. The air then travels between the sand particles, separating them, and ultimately giving them characteristics of a liquid. The grains are allowed to roll over one another without touching, and when the entire body behaves in this way, you get a water-esque fluid.

It’s an informative demonstration, but it’s also spectacular. Sand was supposed to be hard, right?

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