Material riddle

Q: In the video game you’re creating, the avatar is a materials scientist and action hero. A villain known for creating the world’s most powerful microscope has snatched the avatar’s autographed copy of “Materials Science and Engineering” and has lit a match. To prevent the villain from burning the book, the avatar must identify whether a sample of stainless steel under the microscope is magnetic and provide a satisfactory explanation. “One word of jargon, and I burn your little keepsake,” the villain says. What should the avatar look for that indicates whether the steel is magnetic or nonmagnetic, and what should the avatar say?

Send a response of up to 250 words that someone in any field could understand to by noon Eastern March 14 for a chance to have it published in the next issue.


We asked you to explain the underlying physics of a bar called “The Libation Point” that serves an IPA named “Lisa’s Juice.”

WINNER: The astrodynamicists’ wordplay on “The Libation Point” is on the term “libration point,” which is a point in space where the gravitational forces of two large mass objects create a balanced, stable environment for a smaller mass object. Historically, “libation” is also referred to as a ritualistic pouring of a liquid for a deity or religious ceremony but has since evolved to be a more common act of pouring a drink. The joke here is that the bar represents the idea of a stable point in space where the “libations” are the drinks served in the bar. Regarding “Lisa’s Juice,” this wordplay revolves around “Lissajous Orbit,” a type of orbit where a small object can follow around a libration point, forming a complex, repeating pattern. The pronunciation breakdown of “Lissajous” into “Lis au jus,” where “au jus” translates from French to English as “juice,” adds to the humor. The joke lies in the repeated pattern of ordering a round of “Lisa’s ‘juice’” being served at the “Libation Point.” The physics used in this joke pulls from both celestial and orbital mechanics, giving those in the profession a laugh.

Isabella Allen
AIAA student member

Isabella is in her final semester of the master’s of aerospace engineering program at the University of Cincinnati.

Material riddle