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Silly Putty Science

Watching the ball drop in Times Square is a grand tradition. But for sheer drama, nothing matches the free fall of a 50-pound ball of Silly Putty from the roof of D.H. Hill Library.

A hush fell over the high school students in Materials Camp during the walkie-talkie countdown on Tuesday. Members of the media craned their necks and focused their cameras on a corner of the rooftop. After the warm-up launch of three smaller Silly Putty balls ranging from ping pong to basketball sized, which bounced as expected, it was time for the finale.

A 50-pound orb, granddaddy of them all, rolled off the roof. It landed with a satisfying KA-BOOM, sending pink fragments flying in all directions.

“I liked the last one,” said camper Brad Burden, a sophomore at J.M. Robinson High School in Concord. “I thought at least one of them was going to explode. I thought that the big one was going to leave more of an impact though and not so many tiny little pieces.”

To replicate their results – and the fun – the campers collected the Silly Putty (silicone polymer) fragments and remolded them for an encore.

“It’s all about the ways materials behave in the environment,” said Roger Russell, one of the coordinators for the camp, an annual production of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “Sometimes it’s not as you expect.”

See the Silly Putty drop

Want to see it live? The camp has become so popular that – for the first time ever – organizers have added a second session. Catch next week’s Silly Putty drop at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, June 22, on the Brickyard.