Best $20 Special Effect Ever: Make Metal That Tears Like Paper

Want to make everyone think you have super strength? Or maybe you want to do a short film where it looks like the fabric of reality is breaking down? All you need is some aluminum, some gallium, and some patience.

If you want it to look like you're hulking out in front of your friends, or have weird powers over matter (or at least metal), it won't cost you more than twenty dollars to do it. There's a really cheap special effect that you can do, and involves a little element called gallium. Gallium is a metal that's famous for melting at around room temperature. It's rarely found on its own in nature, but you can find pure gallium online. It will only run you about twenty bucks for fifteen grams of the stuff.

Gallium isn't dangerous to humans. Plenty of people order it in order to play with it a little, letting it melt in their hands, then pouring it back into its container and letting it re-solidify. As long as you don't eat it, it's not dangerous.

Perhaps a better way to phrase that is, it's not toxic. It can be quite dangerous if you were to spill it on a plane, or a bike, or any other aluminum structure that you hoped would provide you (or anyone else) with structural support. Gallium, when placed on aluminum, will slowly diffuse into it. As gallium spreads through the aluminum, it lends the aluminum some of its malleability. Give gallium enough time to move through an aluminum structure, and you can tear into the aluminum with your bare hands.

For large structures, you'll need more gallium than fifteen grams, but fifteen grams is a good start for a fun effect. Put gallium on an empty soda can. Scratch the can a bit with a coin or a knife just before the gallium is on it. (Aluminum would be a very reactive metal if, in an oxygen-rich environment, it didn't cover itself with a layer of nonreactive oxide very quickly. Scratching the can will speed the gallium's entry into the aluminum.) Leave it for a few hours or even a few days. The bead of gallium will slowly disappear as the gallium atoms move into the can to create a soft alloy. When you come back, you should be able to push a finger through the sides of the can with almost no effort.

The same thing happens with larger objects. Enough gallium added to an aluminum bike or any other piece of aluminum will make it relatively easy to tear the metal apart. So get some gallium and a camera, and impress your friends.

[Via Gallium, Lenntech Gallium.]