Last night’s midseason finale of Eureka tied up a number of loose ends, and set up a number of new plot points for the second half of the third season, set to air sometime in 2009. (Incidentally, last minute struggles with the script for this episode were responsible for Eureka co-creater Jamie Paglia having to sprint through the San Diego Convention Center to make it on time to DISCOVER’s Comic-Con panel on the Science Behind Science Fiction.) One of the things that Sheriff Carter finds himself contending with is a “nanoparticle syntactic foam” that goes from foam to something harder than concrete in a few seconds—the ideal substance for sealing off the abandoned underground facility that has been featured throughout the season, but not something you’d want to spill on yourself.
Syntactic foams are quite real, and have been around since the 1960’s, although none as tough as the one featured on Eureka. The basic idea is to combine tiny hollow spheres with a material such as a metal or plastic polymer. You end up with something strong and lightweight that can be shaped into an almost infinite variety of shapes. Originally developed for marine applications, syntactic foams are still an area of active research and they their relatives are now finding their way into the electronics, construction, automotive industries and more. In particular, their light weight makes them ideal for aerospace applications, where every additional pound of material that must be launched into Earth orbit can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line.