Around two years ago, physicist Scott Waitukaitis came across a story on IFLScience about a guy putting hydrogel balls into a frying pan, causing a truly bizarre reaction. The moment the gel balls hit the hot surface, they wildly jumped up and down, letting out a strange screeching noise (original video below).
Confused about what was going on in the video, he decided to find out. Two years on and the research is now published in the prestigious journal Nature Physics. It even managed to land the front cover of the November 2017 issue.
“I actually remember first seeing the video. It was around December 2015 and I was just sitting at a science conference in Chile,” Scott Waitukaitis, lead study author, told IFLScience. “I’m really bad at conferences. If I go to a talk and I don't get excited, I go on my phone"
"So I was just scrolling through Facebook during a talk and I came across a post on IFLScience. I clicked the link, watched the video, and immediately I was thinking: ‘What the hell is going on here?'"
“After a good couple of days of looking around, I realized no one had studied this before and that I was looking at a new kind of physical effect,” he added.
Scott and a team from Universiteit Leiden in the Netherlands discovered it’s a new type of Leidenfrost effect that occurs with soft solid materials, which they have now called the "elastic Leidenfrost effect".
The original Leidenfrost effect is the physical phenomenon you see if you chuck some water droplets on a frying pan. If the hot surface is significantly hotter than the boiling point of the droplets, a little hovercraft of insulating vapor stops the drop from physically touching the hot surface.