What you consider solid, liquid or gas depends entirely on where you live. For example, men from cold, cold Mars might build their houses out of ice. Women from Venus, where the average temperature is about 870°F, could bathe in liquid zinc.
We think mercury is a liquid metal, but it's all relative. At one temperature, the mercury atoms arrange themselves into a solid crystal; at another, they flow freely around each other as a liquid. Children from Pluto (like mine, for example) could happily cast their toy soldiers out of mercury, because on that frigid planet it is a solid, malleable metal a lot like tin. Here on temperate Earth, you need a stove to cast tin, but a tank of liquid nitrogen to make mercury figurines.
Arthur C. Clarke wrote that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," but he was wrong. It's easy to tell the difference -- technology works. For example, "remote-viewing" mentalists claim they can see events far away, yet they fail every test. In fact, remote viewing is simple: It's called TV.
Another example that recently circulated online was a fake video of someone charging his iPhone by jamming the end of a USB cable into an onion. How do I know it was fake? First, you need contacts made of two different metals, and second, you can't get enough voltage out of a single vegetable. What makes the ruse so disappointing is that it is possible to charge an iPhone this way, if you do it right.
I recently committed myself to the goal, before the weekend was out, of creating a device entirely from bacon and using it to cut a steel pan in half. My initial attempts were failures, but I knew success was within reach when I was able to ignite and melt the pan using seven beef sticks and a cucumber.
Living in the Midwest, where heating homes with propane is common, I periodically see reports in the local paper that yet another unoccupied house has exploded. They often note that the roof was found in the basement, while the walls were spread some distance into the neighboring fields.
An iron crowbar costs about $8; one made of titanium, $80. Solid-titanium scissors start at $700, and don't even ask about the titanium socket wrench. Titanium must be a rare and precious substance, right?
Actually, as raw ore, titanium is 100 times as abundant as copper. Nearly all white paint is white because of the titanium dioxide found in the ore. Something like four million tons a year go into paint, sunscreen, toothpaste, even paper.
All the components of glass can be found in two places: the beach and the laundry room. It's possible to melt pure white-silica beach sand into glass, but only at temperatures of 3,000 to 3,500°F. Washing soda, lime or borax (a traditional laundry aid) added to the sand disrupts the quartz-crystal structure of silica and reduces the required temperature to a more practical, though still dangerous, 2,000°F, which I achieved with a backyard grill and a vacuum cleaner.
The phrase “passing the acid test” gained popularity in the gold-rush years of the 1850s when miners used strong acids to determine whether the metal they had found was real gold or not. If it bubbled and frothed on contact with acid, it wasn’t gold. But even these failures produced something interesting and beautiful.
When pure metals cool, they solidify into intricately interlocked crystals. You can’t see the crystals because they fit together perfectly to form what appears to be a uniform mass with a smooth, solid surface. But acid can reveal the structure inside.
About 230 years ago, molten lead that rained from the sky—historically something to avoid at all costs—became a clever new way to manufacture an important commodity: shotgun ammo.
Precisely round pellets fly straighter, but casting each in its own 1/8-inch mold isn't exactly mass production. In space, making them would be easy. In zero gravity, surface tension pulls any liquid into a sphere, the shape with the least surface area for a given volume.