Shortly after noon on Jan. 15, 1919, Boston’s North End was shaken by the bursting of a giant iron tank atop the Purity Distilling Co. on Commercial Street. When the 50-foot tank ruptured, an estimated 2.3 million gallons of molasses flooded the streets, killing 21 people and injuring about 150 more.
Science writer Ferris Jabr takes a look at the scientific qualities of molasses in this month’s issue of Scientific American, endeavoring to answer why the flood of brown, goopy sweetener proved far more destructive than a flood of water would have.
Unlike water, molasses is a non-Newtonian fluid, meaning that its viscosity, or thickness, changes based on the outside forces that are applied. For example, if yogurt is shaken or stirred rapidly, it becomes thinner. Full story for BostonGlobe.com subscribers.