What’s the Deal with Transparent Aluminum?

It looks like a tube made of glass but it’s actually aluminum. Well, aluminum with an asterisk beside it — this is not elemental aluminum but rather a material made using it.

We got onto the buzz about “transparent aluminum” as a result of a Tweet from whence the image above came. This Tweet was posted by [Jo Pitesky], a Science Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. [Jo] reported that at a recent JPL technology open house she had the chance to handle a tube of material that looks for all the world like a section of glass tubing, but was billed as transparent aluminum. [Jo] tweeted this because it was an interesting artifact that few people get to play with and she’s right, this is fascinating!

The the material itself is intriguing, and I immediately had practical questions like what is this stuff? What is it good for? How is it made? And is it really aluminum rendered transparent by some science fiction process?

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Homemade solid propellant rocket motors

[KoD] and [Navic] are building solid propellant motors using sugar and potassium nitrate. They cook up the two ingredients along with water and a bonding agent. They find that corn syrup is particularly good for bonding and that cooking the strange brew is more of an artform than science. Either way, the video after the break is proof of the dangers involved in this hobby. Testing the engine thrust with a bathroom scale ends badly for the scale.

There is something satisfying about the ingenuity that goes into the materials. For a casing they’re using PVC pipe, and forming a cone to focus the thrust by using a what amounts to plumber’s epoxy putty. The capping agent for the finished motor is ground up kitty litter.

This is an interesting read, but for now we’re going to stick to water rockets.

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