2856: Materials Scientists

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Materials Scientists
If a materials scientist gives you a present, always ask whether regifting will incur any requirements for Federal paperwork.
Title text: If a materials scientist gives you a present, always ask whether regifting will incur any requirements for Federal paperwork.


Materials science is essentially the study of materials, like steel, including some pretty strange ones such as Vantablack and triiodide. Here Ponytail and White Hat have given Cueball (a materials scientist) some sort of present. Cueball is amazed with the wrapping paper and tape itself, trying to make out what they are all made of. The caption reveals that the cardboard box is empty and the wrapping paper is the present; as a materials scientist, Cueball is more enamored by the (strange and exotic) wrapping paper, far more than he would be by any actual present inside.

The punchline also compares Cueball to a cat. A common stereotype (with lots of image proof, to boot) about domestic housecats is how they enjoy playing with empty boxes and discarded wrapping paper much more than the cat toys contained therein.

Aramid fibers are a class of strong synthetic fibers, built from aromatic rings connected via amide linkages. Kevlar, a material commonly and perhaps most famously used as a bullet-resistant fabric for soft bulletproof vests, is an example of an aramid. Due to their strength, they can be quite durable, even when thin, as depicted in the comic.

Triboluminescence refers to a phenomenon where mechanically working on a material (in this case pulling on the tape) causes it to glow. Triboluminescence is still not well understood by materials scientists, so they may find such materials particularly appealing. One famous example comes from crushing Wint-O-Green Lifesavers mints, which creates particularly bright blue sparks compared to other hard candies. Staying in the realm of wrapping, Scotch tape exhibits this property too, to a point where it can even be used as an x-ray. Phosphors, not to be confused with the element Phosphorus, are substances that glow when exposed to some other, typically more energetic, form of radiation, and can be used to produce a desired glowing effect by taking less useful parts of the spectrum (e.g. beyond the visible, or in an unnecessary area of the visible one) and shifting that into more practical hues.

Structural coloration is a phenomenon where the coloration of an animal or plant is not produced via pigments but via structural interactions with visible light at the scale of a wavelength (e.g. diffraction gratings, thin-film interference). More generally, it can also be used to refer to artificial materials that have a similar effect.

The title text states that if a materials scientist gives you a gift, you should ask if regifting it requires any form of federal paperwork. This is because the materials scientist may have access to items which are dangerous and strictly regulated, such as polonium (an extremely radioactive element), fluoroantimonic acid (the strongest acid discovered), nitrogen triiodide (one of the most sensitive explosives in the world), and n-butyllithium (an extremely flammable, pyrophoric, and caustic compound). Other examples include materials regulated for military reasons under ITAR, possibly up to being considered sensitive or top secret, such as high tech fibers, composites or other such materials with applications for armor (covered under e.g. CFR, Title 22, § 121, Category XIII (e)), or basically anything that has use in rockets (e.g. § 121 Catergory XIII (d)) or stealth (e.g. § 121 Catergory XIII (g) and (j)). All of those are at least export restricted, and require federal paperwork to be regifted or sold.


[Ponytail and White Hat are standing on the left side of a small table looking at Cueball. He stands on the other side of the table holding a gift wrapped in paper with thick black stripes. He is trying to open the gift. On the table lies two gift on top of each other. The bottom is thin and the wrapping paper has thin black stripes on it. The top present is a white box with a thick black ribbon around it and a large bow on top.]
Cueball: Where is this wrapping paper from? It's so thin, but I can't tear it. Is this aramid fabric?!
Cueball: Maybe I can unpeel the... oooh, the tape flashes as I pull it up! Triboluminescence! Did you add a phosphor? It's so bright!
Cueball: Wait, are these patterns structural coloration?
[Caption below the panel:]
Materials scientists are like cats- the best present you can get them is an empty box with cool wrapping paper.


  • The original version of the comic mispelled aramid as "amarid". Upon correcting the mistake, the comic image was replaced with an oversized version for a at least a week.

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It isn't "amarid", it's "aramid"... -- Dtgriscom (talk) 03:03, 18 November 2023 (UTC)

Sounds like a great case for a "Trivia" section below the transcript. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 23:19, 18 November 2023 (UTC)

Damn, I'd love some gift wrap like that, it sounds fascinating, and I'm not even a materials scientist. 08:29, 18 November 2023 (UTC)

Whoever added "This comic may also be an example of nerd sniping." should have said what the "nerd sniping" is that they detect here. Giving us terms to look up? Certainly not the spelling error, that's just a simple mistake. "Looking up" doesn't seem like enough to qualify, it should to be a problem to figure out, a solution begging to be found. I'll give it some time, but if I don't see this claim properly expanded I'll remove it next time I'm here. NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:32, 19 November 2023 (UTC)

There's some editing conflict over that point. It seems obvious to me that there's no "nerd sniping" here since the "nerd" isn't being put in danger. BunsenH (talk) 16:56, 22 November 2023 (UTC)
I agree with you, Bunsen, but if you look at the original nerd sniping comic's title text, Randall got nerd sniped but he wasn't actually in danger though. In a later talk (at Dartmouth?) he talks more about this. After looking into that I think they should leave the nerd sniping connection in the explanation. 18:50, 22 November 2023 (UTC)
I don't think that the "Nerd Sniping" comic's title text should be taken to mean that Randall got "sniped" with that problem, just that he got so absorbed by it that it looked like good bait for someone to go "sniping" with. BunsenH (talk) 23:26, 22 November 2023 (UTC)

When I was in high school chemistry way back in 1960 or so, we used to make Nitrogen Triiodide. It is extremely easy to make — put some crystals of iodine in a filter paper in a funnel. Pour ammonia over them. Let dry — often the triiodide will explode as it dries. If scattered on the floor, it will explode if someone steps on it. The explosion is accompanied by a puff of purple smoke. 12:02, 20 November 2023 (UTC)

Is there any relationship between Materials Scientists and Material Girls? -- 16:29, 20 November 2023 (UTC)

Well, they're both living in a Material World. 16:24, 21 November 2023 (UTC)

Is anyone else getting a HUGE image for this comic? It's showing up as a 4437 × 6680 pixels, 1200DPI, RGB image too big for the browser. I had to "open image in another tab" to view the whole thing. For comparison, the next comic is only 328 × 437 pixels, 80DPI, Gray. 04:47, 22 November 2023 (UTC)

Yeah, same issue here with the dimensions. It wasn't showing up that way when it was first posted, either. 09:31, 22 November 2023 (UTC)
Probably he reuploaded with a correction from "amarid" to "aramid" 11:11, 22 November 2023 (UTC)
Yes, Randall updated the comic image with the correction, but uploaded the wrong size. I downloaded the large image and resized it to match the original 2x image here, then uploaded the new version of it over the original image. The cache appears to have finally updated, and this corrected image should now be visible to everyone here. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 15:16, 22 November 2023 (UTC)
I was wondering if the huge version was part of the joke? Apparently not! Banalotopia (talk) 14:55, 24 November 2023 (UTC)

Should the stuff about the "amarid" misspelling be moved to something like a "Trivia" section now that the comic has been corrected? BunsenH (talk) 16:56, 22 November 2023 (UTC)

Typically, yes. With link to original image for those who want to look at the prior version ...if the new (rescaled) "aramid" one has indeed been made to replace the "amarid" original, you can link to the appropriate 'diff=' page. But it's probably an edit that can wait until someone willing to do it is doing some other tweaking, generally. There'll be something else, there's always something else. ;) 23:13, 22 November 2023 (UTC)