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Pints of Science: How Density is Our Destiny

Dr. Suveen Mathaudhu
Dr. Suveen Mathaudhu

Pints of Science kicked off its second season August 27, 2013, with Dr. Suveen Mathaudhu, adjunct assistant professor in NC State’s Materials Science and Engineering, who spoke about the importance of understanding the idea of density for improving future technologies.

“As much as you would think density is a simple term, that everybody should know across the sciences because everyone learns about it, but it’s really not that simple,” Mathaudhu said, who studies how to manipulate atoms in materials to make them better.

But he is also a big fan of comic books, and used an example from Twitter to demonstrate how even physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson might misinterpret the idea of density. deGrasse Tyson had tweeted that if Thor’s hammer is made of the core of a dying star, it would weigh as much as three billion elephants.

Thor trading card

“I looked at that and I said ‘no, this is wrong,’” Mathaudhu said. “And I had something in my arsenal that would prove this very prominent physicist wrong: a very scientific Marvel trading card from when I was in high school.”

Mathaudhu’s rebuttal was published as an article in the Abstract, to which deGrasse Tyson responded admitting his mistake but also raising a new question. Mathaudhu responded in kind. But deGrasse Tyson did not, “which I was sad about,” joked Mathaudhu, smiling. “Because I really expected it to be a back-and-forth discussion for a long time.”

In concluding his talk on density, Mathaudhu turned to the practical issue of meeting fuel-efficiency goals for automobiles in the near future. Materials science, with its deep understanding of density, will be crucial to making that happen.

“One of the key ways of doing this is by making things lighter, either by using lower density materials or by making materials that are so strong we use less of the materials.” In short, density will have a big impact on society as we move forward with technology development in the near future.

Pints of Science was created by Mr. Gabriel Zilnik (Ph.D. student in Entomology) and Dr. Andrew R. Binder (Assistant Professor of Communication) as a way of bringing NC State researchers out of their laboratories and classrooms and into public spaces in Raleigh. The events are usually held every fourth Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. in Tir Na Nog Irish Pub at 218 S. Blount Street in Raleigh.