This is our guide to the top 10 most extreme substances. Extreme has (luckily) lost most of its buzz word status. It’s things on the fringe, way out near the edges, where they blow our minds with their extremeness.
That being said, for every substance, there is the ‘most extreme’ version. We’ve all heard stories about magnets powerful enough to affect bodily functions in grown men. And acids that will eat through your hands in mere seconds. But did you know that there are even more extreme versions of those?
Today we countdown to 10 of the most extreme substances in existence.
The darkest substance known
Every substance has a reflective index, quite simply it’s the amount of light a substance’s surface bounces back. The higher the reflective index, the more light it bounces back, mirrors are at one end of this scale. On the extreme end is a substance going by the name of VentaBlack.
Vantablack is the brand name for a new class of super-black coatings. Created by a UK company by the name of Surrey Nano Systems, this is as black as black gets. The coatings are unique in that they all have hemispherical reflectances below 1%. They also retain that level of performance from all viewing angles. That means that eat absorbs 99% of all light. It is created from Carbon Nano Tubes which are stacked on end and sandwiched together. It literally traps the light within it.
The coating is a super-black coating that holds the independently verified world record as the darkest man-made substance. It was originally developed for satellite-borne blackbody calibration systems. Its properties make it perfect for 100% efficient Solar collectors and within telescopes and other optical systems.
The most flammable substance
A lot of things burn with astounding intensity, styrofoam, napalm, and marshmallows. But what if there was a material that could even set fire to sand? Chlorine Trifluoride, an interhalogen compound is a colorless, poisonous, corrosive and highly flammable gas that condenses into a pale-greenish-yellow liquid. It was discovered in 1930 and even the Nazis refused to work with it.
Just to illustrate the powers of this substance we can look to an actual story that it was accidentally spilled and manage to burn its way through a foot of concrete and 4 feet of gravel and sand before burning itself out, at the same time it gave off clouds of hot hydrofluoric acid. It is kept in quartz vessels due to its flammable nature.
The substance’s flammability means that it is used in the semiconductor industry to clean chemical vapor deposition chambers as well as within rocket fuel as well as nuclear reactor fuel processing.
The most toxic poison
What’s the last thing you would want to inject into your face? We all know of Botox, it’s that substance so beloved of Hollywood and celebs and knows more often by the general public, with 7.4 million procedures in the United States, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons
It is used in the medical industry to treat various ailments such as excessive sweating and muscle spasms and even migraines.
It was discovered in 1820, by Justinus Kerner, a small-town German medical officer, and romantic poet (yes, really). Following experiments on animals and on himself, he concluded that the toxin acts by interrupting signal transmission in the somatic and autonomic motor systems, without affecting sensory signals or mental functions.
But what is it and what could be the reason that it’s on this list? Botox uses Botulinum toxin, produced by the bacteria Clostridium Botulinum and it is so deadly that just an amount equal to a grain of salt is enough to kill a large man. It is produced in large quantities but the most shocking thing is that it would only take 9lbs of it, properly dispersed, to kill every single human being on earth.
The hottest substance ever
There are few things known to man hotter than the interior of a freshly microwaved Hot Pocket. But this substance breaks even that record. Created by scientists at CERN’s Large Hedron Collider by smashing gold atoms together at nearly the speed of light. It’s called a Quark-Gluon Plasma soup and it reaches a balmy 9 TRILLION DEGREES FAHRENHEIT. That’s about 400,000 times hotter than the center of the Sun. Could there be a more extreme substance?
The plasma itself occurs when all the elementary particles are freed of their strong attraction for one another. This results in a form of matter which would have existed in the very first instants of the universe.
The good news is that the plasma was only a trillionth of a centimeter across. It also only lasted a trillionth of a trillionth of a second.
Most acidic acid
Acid is scary stuff, one of the scariest monsters in the movie Aliens spat out acid so it’s pretty ingrained in our psyche that acid is not good. If the alien instead spat out Fluoroantimonic Acid then it would fall through the floor until it hit the dirt but the vapors given off by their decaying bodies would have killed everyone around them.
This acid is 21,019 times more powerful than sulphuric acid and can even eat through glass. And the cherry on top is that it even explodes when exposed to water. It is formed by mixing hydrogen fluoride (HF) and antimony pentafluoride, various versions can be formed dependent on the ratio, but a ratio of 1:1 produces the most powerful acid.
Fluoroantimonic acid is used in chemical engineering and organic chemistry to protonate organic compounds, regardless of their solvent. For example, the acid can be used to remove H2 from isobutane and methane from neopentane. It is used as a catalyst for alkylations and acylations in petrochemistry. Superacids, in general, are used to synthesize and characterize carbocations.
Most powerful explosive
The honor of the most explosive substance is shared by two compounds, HMX and Heptanitrocubane. The later was created by Philip Eaton and Mao-Xi Zhang at the University of Chicago, in 1999 and mostly exists in labs due to its still experimental nature and is similar to HMX but has a denser crystal structure, giving it a greater destructive potential.
HMX, on the other hand, exists in large enough quantities to make it far more threatening. It’s used in solid rocket fuel, shaped charges, and even nuclear detonators. That last one is the scariest because despite how movies make it seem, starting the fission/fusion reaction that makes bright, glowing radioactive mushroom clouds is not an easy ball to get rolling, but HMX is up to the task.
The most radioactive substance
Before we go into this one, it should be noted that the glowing green rods in the Simpsons show are complete fiction. Just because something is radioactive it does not mean that it glows. However, Polonium-210 is radioactive and it does glow, in this case, blue.
The Polish-French scientist Marie Curie first discovered polonium at the end of the 19th Century. Unfortunately, it caused her early death. There are very small amounts of polonium-210 in the soil and in the atmosphere. And everyone has a small amount of it in their body.
But at high doses, it damages tissues and organs. A microgram of Po-210, about the size of a speck of dust, would be fatal if swallowed.
The former Soviet spy Alexander Litvinenko was duped into consuming some without his knowledge and died of cancer shortly after. This substance is not something that you would want to mess with. The blue glow is caused by the air around it being excited by the radiation. And it will actually heat nearby objects.
The hardest substance
If you thought that the hardest substance on Earth was steel then you are very wrong. If you said diamond, then you took a good, if inaccurate guess, at least technically. The version of carbon that takes the honor of the hardest substance is actually called Aggregated Diamond Nanorod.
It’s actually a collection of nano-scale diamonds, and it is also the least compressible, hardest substance known to man. The material is naturally occurring. This implies that one day we could coat our cars in this and just walk it off if we collide with a train.
It was developed in Germany in 2005 using high temperatures and pressure on carbon. The crystals are approximately 1µm in length and 20nm in diameter. This material will likely be used in the same capacity as industrial diamonds. Except that it will be more hard-wearing than regular diamonds.
The most magnetic substance
There are many levels of magnets, from weak ones found in electronics such as speakers to powerful Neodymium magnets. A group of materials physicists from Twin Cities, Minnesota, led by Jian-Ping Wang has found a material comprising 16 iron atoms and two nitrogen is approximately 18% more magnetic than the predicted limit.
In fact, it is so powerful that it has made scientists revisit how magnetism works as it exceeds the predicted limit of magnetism for a material. If the magnets can be manufactured commercially they could allow computer manufacturers to use smaller write heads that could hold more information. The findings were reported at the American Physical Society’s meeting this month.
The most super Superfluid
In our quest to find the most extreme substance we must look at something which seems to defy the laws of nature. Superfluidity is a state of matter that occurs at extremely low temperatures. It has a high thermal conductivity and no viscosity. Helium 2 is so superfluid that a cup containing some will see the helium 2 try to flow up and leave the cup as if it had just decided to leave. This property has been given the name ‘third sound’. It will also seep through perfectly solid looking materials because of its complete lack of friction. Helium 2 flows through otherwise invisible holes in materials which would stop regular helium in its track.
It is also the most conductive substance on earth, several hundred times more conductive than copper. In most materials heat moves through them through dispersion. Through helium 2 it moves as a wave, rather like a soundwave where it transfers from one molecule to another, this is named as ‘second sound.
You can’t get more extreme than a substance that required 2 new definitions of sound.
We hope you enjoyed our guide to the top 10 most extreme substances. We have more fun guides coming in the following months. So be sure to bookmark this and share it with your friends.