9 things you didn't know were made of foam

Posted by Dan Holmes on

Foam isn't just for cups anymore. It's used in countless products, and it pops up in places you probably didn't know about.

Movie Props

How does George Clooney still stay cool after a bad guy hits him in the head with the butt of a revolver? How is it possible that Tom Hanks can take a frying pan to the head and live to tell about it? It's movie magic and it only happens because the production team uses a foam prop.

Movie prop experts can craft almost anything out of foam, for example many guns used in films (that don't need to fire) are actually molded from foam. You can get frying pans, cement blocks, hammers, and even baseball bats that look like the real thing, but are actually harmless foam props.

Even more ghoulish: the severed hands and other body parts in "The Walking Dead" are made from foam.  

Whipped Cream

Ok, so this isn't manufacturing foam. But technically, whipped cream is a foam in a scientific sense. Whipped cream, meringue, and mousse are all foams, because they are made by suspending air to form a gel or stabilizing agent. That means there's no air, but it's still yummy.

Fire Extinguishers

What should you do when a fire breaks out? Throw water on it, right? Not necessarily.

Sure, water puts out fires, but it doesn't do it the most efficient way. Water extinguishes the heat of a fire, halting it's growth and progress. But foam is a more scientific way to put out a fire: choking the fire by separating the oxygen from the heat. Foam fire extinguishers use a type of foam that looks a lot like shaving cream to blast into the fire and cut it off at its deadly oxygen source.

Surfboards

The Beach Boys sang "Everybody's gone surfin...surfin USA!"

You can go surfing on a foam board, in fact many of the best surfboards are made from foam cores molded with firm (but pliable) high-grade foam. It's then covered with fiberglass cloth and polyester resin so the owner can "hang ten."

A Heart

How would you feel if you had a foam ticker?

In 2015, researchers at Cornell University created a heart made of foam. The organ could "beat" just like a regular human heart.

Somehow I think I would have been less hurt if Stacey Bowles had broken my foam heart in high school instead of the real flesh-and-blood thing.

Football Helmets

There's been a lot of controversy about concussions in football lately and the topic is sure to continue to be important to the health of athletes and the future of the NFL.

According to Popular Science, a student at Brigham Young named Jake Merrell invented a "smart" football helmet that uses memory foam and sensors to transmit data wirelessly to a tablet with information on the force and acceleration of an impact on the field in real-time. Pretty slick, and helpful for keeping athletes safe.

Car Bumpers

We tend to think that "hard" things are tougher than soft things. Metal is a better material to protect us on the road than soft, spongy foam, right? Not exactly.

A mechanical engineering professor named Afsaneh Rabiei at the University of Tokyo has spent her career researching the properties of materials. She noticed that in nature the strongest materials are made up of soft, non-solid materials at the molecular level. In nature, "strong" is made from "flexible." Rabiei developed a "foam metal" and molded car bumpers out of the material. While cars have long had softer materials on their frame, in this case the bumper itself is made from foam. A car with a foam metal bumper will absorb the shock in an accident much better and help passengers stay safer.

Playing Cards

Why would you want foam playing cards rather than paper or plastic? Because they hold up longer to the wear-and-tear of human hands. (Or maybe monkey hands if you play gin rummy at the zoo).

The game company Zazzle makes dozens of playing card sets produced from foam.

"Bean Bag" Chairs

The industry still tends to call them "bean bag" chairs even if the best ones (Xorbee, hint hint) are not filled with beans. Instead of beans, which flatten over time and end up leaking onto your living room floor, foam-filled bean bags are packed with quality furniture-grade foam. Try sitting in one, and you'll realize the difference.   

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