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I want to know whether there is a way to make coins that are "swimmable" in the fashion of Scrooge McDuck.

My inquiry is based off this Family Guy meme from Pinterest enter image description here

The coins don't necessarily have elaborate images or designs on them, they can just be plain tiny round disks.

I considered metals that melt when heated to body temperature (like gallium) but since that would not return to a coin shape after melting, it isn't an acceptable solution. I want the material to maintain the coin shape or at least reform back naturally when something passes through, this include not merging/sticking together with other coins.

Paper is also out of the question; I want it to be coinage, so substituted measures of value like salt, chocolate, etc. don't qualify, unless they can be turn into coins. They have to hold their shape when not being swum through, so jelly or similar materials are also out.

rubber, sponge, or similar materials are also out.

I also don't want the ability to swim through coins to be intrinsic to the swimmer or their clothing (some sort of field that makes coins permeable on contact or a similar device).

Is there a material or method to achieve what I describe?

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    $\begingroup$ Why not foam rubber or hollow plastic discs? It's not intrinsically valuable nor very durable (values typically desired in coinage,) but it does meet all of the criteria you laid out. $\endgroup$ – Gene Dec 5 '19 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ Let's put it to test, everyone send me all your coins preferably gold to fill up my bedroom... I'll do a curre... er buoyancy check. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 6 '19 at 5:59
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    $\begingroup$ To summarise most of the answers below, the issue isn't the coins, but the relative space between them. Water molecules are far enough apart, compared to the size of each molecule, that we can push them apart, yet densely packed enough that they can support our weight. It's the same principle as a ball pit. If you can work out the happy medium, you can swim in gold. $\endgroup$ – nzaman Dec 6 '19 at 6:08
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    $\begingroup$ How about really tiny coins? I'm thinking of those plastic coins that come with some LEGO sets: link, that are about 1/4" in diameter. Still large enough to be identifiable as coin-shaped, but much smaller than actual currency. Also they're plastic, so you could fill a pool with a mix of water and tiny coins, because they'd float. $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Dec 6 '19 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ Please note that from such a height (from the image it seams at least twice the height of a person) even falling into ordinary water can lead to severe injury if falling in an incorrect angle and posture. $\endgroup$ – vsz Dec 6 '19 at 17:50

15 Answers 15

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Possibly. Push water or high-pressure air in from the bottom of the container. Essentially what you're doing is making artifical quicksand*. See also fluidized beds: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluidized_bed I've no idea whether it would actually work with coins, though, given their shape.

*If you happen to walk into quicksand, the recommended action is to lay down and swim out.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm a little terrified to think of what air pressures would be involved to fluidize a stack of coins! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 6 '19 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica I'm going to go swimming in my money, you might think that's extravagant, but wait until I turn on the hurricane required to even pull it off. $\endgroup$ – Muuski Dec 6 '19 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ Serious question: Is it "swimming in aerated coins", or "being tossed around by hurricane winds and pelleted by a dense cloud of coins"? $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Dec 6 '19 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ swimming in quicksand. who woulda thought that is the best way to do it... btw why can't you walk out? and also how does quick sand even do that? $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Dec 6 '19 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @michael griffin: A non-expert answer is that it's "quick" because there's water coming up from below: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quicksand You sink for the same reason you sink in water, because you're denser (or maybe just slightly less dense) so you sink until you reach equilibrium. And you can't walk out for the same reason you can't walk out of water that's over your head. (If the quicksand was shallow enough, you could.) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 7 '19 at 4:56
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Aerate the aggregate

Forcing air (or water, or both) up through a container of sand makes quick sand. Each sand grain is suspended in fluid, and free to flow. I propose this same approach could work for any aggregate material, including metal coins.

Problems:

  • A mechanism to move that much air
  • Noise from air and clanking coins
  • Drowning

I'm imagining machinery similar to indoor skydiving simulators, with a large fan below the bottom grate. You know you have enough air when your coins just barely float. You can adjust air flow and coin material. Lighter coins will float more easily but if the average density of the solution is lower than the swimmer, then they will just sink.

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    $\begingroup$ Mark Rober made a video about this topic: youtube.com/watch?v=My4RA5I0FKs $\endgroup$ – MindSwipe Dec 6 '19 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ Metals are heavy. There's no way you're going to make the average density of the solution lower than the swimmer's without it looking like a bunch of coins spinning around in a tornado. $\endgroup$ – R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE Dec 6 '19 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ @R.. OP don't seem to require metal - plastic is ok and something like foam core with thin shell would be very light and strong enough... $\endgroup$ – Alexei Levenkov Dec 6 '19 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ @R.. There is no need of the average density of the solution to be lower than the swimmers. (Otherwise you couldn't swim anyway, but would simply sink like a stone.) Quicksand has e.g. a higher density than a swimmer, and you can still swim in it. $\endgroup$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Dec 9 '19 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ I'm replying to the last paragraph, not claiming you need the constraint on average density. $\endgroup$ – R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE Dec 9 '19 at 13:01
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I find the answers that suggest to mix the coins with another fluid (air or water) unsatisfactory.

Swimming works for 2x reasons:

  • the thing swimming is neutrally bouyant in the medium

  • the medium behaves like a fluid

So to swim in coins you need to approximate those 2x conditions. assuming a human swimmer

1) reduce the density of the coins to that of water

2a) decrease the size of the coins until the swimmers movement can make them flow.

2b) reduce the friction between the coins (apply a silicone coating?)

Most likely by the time (1) has been achieved (eg, with a hollow core) most coins will be sufficient small to bear paddling against (or at least some kind of freestyle stroke where the limb is out of the fluid for part of the stroke) The low friction aspect of the coins would be to ensure they 'flow' at least a bit like water.

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    $\begingroup$ User assumes all risk when swimming in a 'pool' of tiny flat disks of lithium coated in silicone. Which are so small that they're indistinguishable from water, other than the fact no one can float in it. Catastrophic conflagration may occur. Do not swallow Happy Fun Ball. No refunds. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Dec 7 '19 at 1:23
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    $\begingroup$ This was my thought, too. For the friction part, it should already help a lot to a) polish the coins, and b) form them in a flat pill shape without any sharp edges. The idea is to stop the coins from stacking up into rigid columns. I'm not sure how far this can go towards swimmable coins, but it should make the coins much more easy to shift around. $\endgroup$ – cmaster - reinstate monica Dec 7 '19 at 13:41
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No. Very unlikely. With heavy objects like coins a person would just lie on the surface and thrash about with a few coins being thrown around. Should the coins be made lighter and smaller the situation would perhaps approach what happens in grain silos which are very dangerous. Dozens of people fall into grain silos every year and a lot of those are engulfed and die. It is not possible to swim in such conditions even for very strong men they just get trapped.

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    $\begingroup$ @TitaniumTurtle - Can't you sort of swim through plastic balls in a ball pit? At least you can dive into them. Of course a ball pit is not purely solid, there's a lot of space between spherical balls and the balls are also very light--maybe it would work if you had hollow spherical "coins"? $\endgroup$ – Hypnosifl Dec 5 '19 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Hypnosifl If the ball pit was a couple meters deep I suspect you'd just sink to the bottom. So that's more drowning than swimming. $\endgroup$ – Spoki0 - Reinstate Monica Dec 6 '19 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ @TitaniumTurtle Interesting (to me at least): What's the difference between swimming and tunneling with a rapidly collapsing tunnel behind you? $\endgroup$ – Muuski Dec 6 '19 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Spoki0 A worthy hypothesis. Someone needs to get a safety rope, a long hose to breathe through, and a swimming pool full of hollow plastic spheres to test this. Purely for scientific purposes, of course. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Dec 6 '19 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Spoki0 From personal experience at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, I can assure you that it is indeed very difficult to swim in a ball pit. You don't sink immediately, but it's hard to generate any thrust to move in a particular direction. $\endgroup$ – Aaron Rotenberg Dec 6 '19 at 17:44
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Use LEGO coins and water:

LEGO coins

They're plastic, so they'll float in water, it's just a matter of determining the ideal ratio of coins to water. It's better than using normal currency-sized coins because the smaller coins will impede your movement far less. Might be a bit pricey to get enough of these to fill a swimming pool to the appropriate density, but hey, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than the same volume of actual gold coins, and you could potentially swim in them.

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    $\begingroup$ This, or hollow coins buoyant in water. This is probably the most realistic answer. $\endgroup$ – BMF For Monica Dec 6 '19 at 21:15
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Possibly... when sand is stimulated with sonic vibrations, it behaves a lot like a liquid. I'm not sure if coins are small enough to experience this phenomenon, but if they were, they may become swimmable.

[edit] This effect is significantly amplified and paired with blasting air up through it which I did not include in my original answer since the OP originally said floating it in another medium was against the rules.

https://interestingengineering.com/video/this-mind-blowing-experiment-makes-sand-behave-just-like-a-liquid

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    $\begingroup$ That link is pumping air through a bed of sand, which makes this a duplicate answer. Maybe you meant to include a different link that uses vibrations? $\endgroup$ – JPhi1618 Dec 6 '19 at 19:21
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The goal is, as others have said, to reduce the friction between coins... or rather, to allow them to slide past each other smoothly: that coins don't do this is not completely because of friction.

But we want to do this by the intrinsic properties of the coins, not through adding a gas or liquid.

Orientation

Normally, coins poured into a container will tend to align with the floor of that container. So in a swimming pool the coins will all lie flat, making them very strong in compression. If the coins can be randomly arranged instead, this would definitely help.

Shape

The shape of the coins is probably the major issue here, but also probably one of the things that OP is least able to change.

If you push two stacks of coins together, they will remain separate: they do not "smoosh together". It would help if the edges were rounded rather than square, so that if you pushed two stacks of coins together, they would smoothly interleave.

Similarly, if you press down on the top of a stack, it is extremely strong and stable: a stack of dozens of coins will not collapse in compression, even if the coins are imperfectly stacked. So it would help further if the flat surfaces of the coins were also slightly domed, akin to flattened M&Ms or Skittles. That way, imperfect stacks become compressible.

Consider the difference between pushing your hand into a box of M&Ms, and a box of stacked sugar cubes: the skittles let your hand slide in freely, the sugar cubes will resist you.

enter image description here

Mass

Lighter coins will have less friction, and also less mass to resist the swimmer/diver. They need to be as dense as water (so the swimmer floats), but not much more than that. Actually, to be more precise: the volume occupied by the coins and the air between them needs that average density. Aluminum is probably close to as good as you can get.

Coating

Teflon-coating coins wouldn't allow diving, since they would still basically be a solid in compression. They might allow one to swim through them.

Monopoles

Personally, I suspect even the above wouldn't be enough to make them swimmable. Simple solids are probably unlikely to accomplish divabilty, no matter how slick they are.

Coins that are made of (or laced with) magnetic monopoles would be one way: they would repel, and thus be slicker than teflon, as well as spaced out, the topmost ones even hovering a little.

This would allow for both compression and buoyancy, both important for absorbing the impact when you dive in! You'd also get splashes, waves and ripples.

Superconductors

If monopoles are too handwavey, another possibility, though I haven't checked it out, might be magnets embedded into coins such that the south face of each magnet faces out... and the coins being made of superconducting materials. Superconductors are repelled by magnets, but I'm unsure what he behavior of a superconducting object with an embedded magnet would be. Intuitively, it feels as if such coins should act kinda like monopoles, but nothing at all works as I would intuitively expect around superconductors, so I'm probably wrong.

Of course, even if this works, it means making coins out of room-temperature, 1-atm-pressure superconductors, which have not yet been discovered.

Gravity

If the person swimming is very very light because of low gravity, then so can the coins be. This significantly reduces friction, and also compaction due to gravity: a swimming motion would churn the coins up farm more, and they would fall back in place far more slowly.

Conclusion

I'm not sure any one of these will be a solution, but some combination should be feasible, particularly if combined with other answers here (changing or forcing the separating material, vibrating, etc).

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    $\begingroup$ Magnetic monopoles are still just theoretical, aren't they? $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman Dec 9 '19 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman Yup - single-particle monopoles are theoretically possible, which makes them valid for a hard-science worldbuilding answer, but so far as I know nobody's made one yet. That's why I wrote "If monopoles are too handwavey..." :) $\endgroup$ – Dewi Morgan Dec 9 '19 at 19:37
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Make them highly ionized.
For example, if each coin has a very high negative charge, they will repulse each other and act like a gas.

Then you need to wear an highly ionized swimsuit that will cover all part of your body.

The swimsuit should have 3 substrates:
1) external substrate with same charge of coins, it will repulse them and allow you to swim.
2) medium should be dielectric, it should prevent the current to pass through and electrocute your body.
3) internal, a conductive material connected to a power generator that keeps the system balanced continuely charging the external substrate.

The big problem of this system is how to keep coins charged safely, a big amount of energy is necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ "... a big amount of energy is necessary." What a big understatement! $\endgroup$ – BMF For Monica Dec 7 '19 at 2:46
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A zero-gee pool of coins.

Create a weightless volume (e.g., in orbit) packed with coins, with some room to breathe. With a continuous source of agitation (light breezes/jets of air) the coins will move chaotically around the room, acting like a fluid of particles which you can push against to propel yourself (swim).

The coins can be made out of anything and can be packed fairly dense (just don't breathe any in). I imagine this would be a wildly claustrophobic experience.

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    $\begingroup$ But how will you dive into them without gravity? $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Dec 10 '19 at 2:07
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen OP says nothing about the need to dive into the coins, only that they be "swimmable." And what is diving anyway, other than moving fast into something. Just do that. $\endgroup$ – BMF For Monica Dec 10 '19 at 2:20
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    $\begingroup$ So...a cannon to shoot you into coins? I like it. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Dec 10 '19 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen Or just thrust off a wall with your legs. Moving too fast into a pool of coins is, as the OP points out, potentially fatal. $\endgroup$ – BMF For Monica Dec 10 '19 at 2:46
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    $\begingroup$ Use my legs like a peasant? No thank you. I'll stick with my cannon. $\endgroup$ – DKNguyen Dec 10 '19 at 3:09
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Here is a video of someone experimenting swimming in shade balls that they use on a reservoir.

It will give a similar answer to your coin question. The resistance of the coins would impede progress as it will be higher than the propulsion and resistance your arms and legs would have swimming, you would have to make some kind of fins for your feet and a cupped oar like device for your arms, but even that may not be enough.

The coins would have to be plastic or foam. There would still be the problem of buoyancy as you would sink. Maybe try attaching a large helium balloon with a harness.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZbChKzedEk

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi Anthony and welcome to Worldbuilding,SE! It looks like there is some kind of misunderstanding, as the video depicts a person swimming in an ordinary pool of water, which has just a layer of plastic balls on the surface, while OP asks about swimming in a pool filled with coins only. $\endgroup$ – zovits Dec 9 '19 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ No misunderstanding as the video shows that even with water it is difficult and becomes impossible when more balls are added which gets closer to the OP's question about swimming in coins or objects that could be made coins. A few here have suggested a ball pit. So a pool of coins, balls used as currency or any other objects without water or another medium seems unusable unless someone finds an object that works. $\endgroup$ – Anthony Sach Dec 9 '19 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ Came here to post this video. While true, it doesn't answer OP's question directly, it gives good info on the nature of the problem. $\endgroup$ – Sherwood Botsford Dec 11 '19 at 15:04
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Hollow coins could work. If you want to swim through them, they would have to be floating on water, like piled on a rich person's pool. As to what swimming through them would look like, I offer this demonstration by Veritasium: https://youtu.be/BZbChKzedEk

As you can see it's surprisingly difficult, yet doable.

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    $\begingroup$ This is what I was going to spontaneously answer after reading the question title, and before reading the question. However, I think it's very wrong in the sense of the actual question. The coins would need a low density to swim, or rather float in water (the coins themselves!). So yeah, hollow coins are the first, most obvious solution. Or styrofoam coins, or the like. But that would at the same time make it exceedingly difficult, or impossible, for you to swim in them (which is what the question is really about). You'll sink like a stone and die. $\endgroup$ – Damon Dec 6 '19 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ Watch the video. You most definitely can swim in them (with great effort) $\endgroup$ – SurpriseDog Dec 6 '19 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm... but this very video shows the opposite. That guy swims in water (with some shade balls floating on the surface, loosely covering the surface, none more), and this is difficult already. In the scene where he actually tries to float on the shade balls, he seems to float for 3-4 seconds, then sinks as in quicksand (and even yells out "this is like quicksand") and then, while struggling like crazy, sinks like a stone. $\endgroup$ – Damon Dec 7 '19 at 17:01
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You'd need to create coins that have a density equal to the density of water at or below the bottom of the pool, either by using hollow coins or by using a particularly non-dense allow (maybe a metallic aerogel?). Effectively, your coins would be floating right at the bottom of the pool, so any disturbance could easily displace them upward and outward. It might also help to make the coins as slick and frictionless as possible to eliminate any friction as coins move past each other.

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The shade ball video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZbChKzedEk) posted by A. Sach illustrates the problem well.

Fluidization is necessary to reduce friction, and the coins have to be non-stackable.

The shade ball example shows that uniform size is a problem -- you get large patches of local order that increases resistance.

I suspect that the fluidization has to be strong enough that the gap is large compared to irregularities in the coins.

To swim in coins, the average density has to be approximately the same as humans. Consider what it would be like swimming in a pool of mercury.

One example of a dangerous solid that has some of these characteristics: Wheat. Every year there are farmers and farm kids that drown in wheat silos. A person is denser than the wheat+spaces, and the grains are slippery enough that you slowly slide down.

So if you had a coin shaped like a bean, with a density of about 1.3 so that with the air spaces it was just over 1.0 you could swim.

Over the years lots of things have been used for money. One of the more interesting ones was seashells.

So your new currency are clear plastic beads containing holograms to make them uncounterfeitable. They are cheap to make, don't bog down your pockets.

Or you make hollow quartz balls. Or for much longer lasting currency, hollow sapphire balls. You then can also have the fun of adding dopants to make them in brilliant colours. (Synthetic sapphire can be clear, blue, red, pink -- the natural colours of sapphire, or in a huge variety of other colours.

If you make hollow balls, you could line them with a real charge electret (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electret) if you can put enough charge on them, you wouldn't need fluidization to keep them apart.

For that matter, they don't have to be spheres, but could be regular or semi-regular solids. By adjusting the charge to mass ratio, they would self sort.

This could bring a whole new meaning to the flow of money.

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    $\begingroup$ So if we make aerogel coins, do you think they will be swimmable? $\endgroup$ – Stefano Balzarotti Dec 11 '19 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ You might be able to walk on the bottom of the pool, if you can get the friction low enough,. $\endgroup$ – Sherwood Botsford Dec 11 '19 at 22:18
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I don't think you can do this without fluidizing, in a way that keeps the coins levitated and separated relative to each other in ways that are 'self-restoring' when the diver compresses them. The dive builds up a fair amount of gravitationally-induced kinetic energy and the coin system must absorb and dissipate this while having enough 'density' that the diver floats to the surface instead of sinking -- he would not drown, but would have no fun, and when he interrupts the fluidizing flow the coins around him will tend to coalesce to a jacket wherever he tries to go...

First major issue to be overcome is that disk-shaped objects don't fluidize well: when they start aligning in 'fields' air preferentially escapes past them and that section of the bed will progressively collapse. So you need something with comparatively low velocity to do the fluidizing with flat-shaped coins ... arguing for use of some kind of 'carrier fluid' perhaps with density lower than water. That is not part of the original question scope, but it remains a potential for 'fallback'.

These likely won't be precious-metal coins, even if 'hollow', and I think it is likely that you will have some light, strong shell just stiff and strong enough to absorb shocks like diving without permanent distortion (ie. exceeding the yield point anywhere in the structure). To me this suggests either aerogel/nanofoam or some kind of honeycomb, with the faces and perhaps edge ring bonded on, perhaps with positive pressure inside to contribute to effective stiffness and distortion resistance.

Making light coins 'a store of value' becomes an issue for Scrooge McDuck, and probably for you all, too, if the coins are basis for a legal tender. There's a pretty good analysis in a different context in a couple of the George O Smith Venus Equilateral stories, where he tries to design currency that can't be matter-duplicated. We don't have quite that problem, but we do have to try ensuring (1) a distinctive structure that can't cost-effectively be faked; (2) testable structure that is distinctive and can't cost-effectively be faked; (3) 'tamper-evident' construction that identifies when coinage has been adulterated or is 'in need of professional testing' -- there are other concerns. If the coin is made of honeycomb brazed or adhered to face sheets, for example, microstructure or added trace elements can give a certain inherent set of qualities. As with Microsoft's holograms (in principle) spreading even large setup and coding costs over a large number of instances can pay where 'counterfeiting' even at fairly large nominal face value (as for Bitcoin or other virtual currency when markets don't close) would not.

Making the coins lenticular with an airfoil cross-section might work, but these wouldn't feel like coins in the hand. So I would wonder about making the face designs in heavier relief, using aerodynamic dimpling a la golf ball, or doing specialized shaping to make the coins suitable for the above clean levitation characteristics.

I do wonder what would happen if you could develop a structure so stiff yet light that it could be processed to hold its shape in vacuo (where you want it to be for many types of fabrication anyway) and have near-neutral buoyancy in air. I don't think offhand that pressurizing the ambient environment changes the working displacement density of air radically enough to help with the levitation and relative effective 'inertia' of such coins ... but someone should 'gin up some physics to test.

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After posting this i saw a similar post but: If you hired the zero G plane (vomit comet) you could pack a large container with both yourself and coins, when it went into zero G you could then swim through them.

There would have to be just enough coins so as you swim they compacted against the rear wall of the container giving you resistance to get propulsion forward. As you swim you would push the coins in front behind you keeping the resistance going. You may need some kind of cupped paddle on you hands to assist.

Too many coins and you would have too much resistance in front of you.

Depending on if you want actual coins or just something of value you could swim in smart water that they use for tracking criminals. The Smartwater security system sprays digitally encoded information onto attackers. If it could be coded like a Crypto Currency then it would have value stored in it and that would be like swimming in water.

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    $\begingroup$ The problem with your "vomit comet" idea is that the zero-G conditions only last for a few minutes. I'm not sure how sudden the return to normal gravity is, but if you're not careful, you'll end up getting crushed beneath the coins, and a container's worth of regular coins would weigh a lot. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Dec 9 '19 at 10:14
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    $\begingroup$ Well, use plastic or foam coins then. It is all hypothetical unless you have the resources to do it. If you have, then build a container that would fit in a Falcon heavy lifting rocket and pay SpaceX for a ride into orbit for a few hours or days. $\endgroup$ – Anthony Sach Dec 9 '19 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ I feel this is an almost duplicate of my answer. $\endgroup$ – BMF For Monica Dec 9 '19 at 12:37

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