A recent conversation about stress, how it seems to permeate this ever tightening society like an over-wound pocket watch spring, reminded me of something I had researched in one of my physics courses.
An almost magical glass structure called Prince Rupert’s Drops, Although they have been called many things over the centuries.. Dutch Tears, Rupert’s Balls, Verona Drops… their strange properties could never be explained. They’ve been around for a very long time, first discovered in Holland and later kept as a secret at the glass artisans at Mecklenburg, Germany. How about some poetry from 1663 mentioning this curiosity?
“And that which makes their Fame ring louder,With much adoe they shew’d the KingTo make glasse Buttons turn to powder,If off the[m] their tayles you doe but wring.How this was donne by soe small ForceDid cost the Colledg a Month’s discourse.
“their tayles you doe but wring...”? Almost thou’est don’t sound english do’ith?
Anyway.. simple to make, just drop some molten glass into a container of cold water and they will form their characteristic “tadpole” shape of glass.
This is where it getS strange and they have only recently been able to explain it. Take that glass tadpole and a hammer. Strike the head of the glass tadpole with the hammer. Go ahead… it’s not going to break or crack. STRIKE IT HARDER. Still there. Amazing strength.
BUT… crack or even scratch… the tail of the tadpole at the opposite end of the head. Suddenly the whole thing explodes into glass dust. A stress failure front develops and travels at a estimated speed of 6400 miles per hour, turning the glass to powder as it goes. Internal stresses locked in by the fast cooling effect of the water against the surface tensions. Mechanical chaos frozen in time really.
So what is going on? Seems the object, while the head part is almost completely invincible, is only as strong as its fragile tail when it releases all that “frozen” internal stress.
Thanks to the power of digital video cameras that can record at hundreds of thousands of frames per second, you can see just what happens when the tail is “bitten”
So getting back to the first sentence, talking about the stresses in American life today.. how the rich are getting richer and the poor are scrambling just to survive… reminds me of a quote. You may have heard it before.
“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi