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Water Will Wobble

By cestmoi in Science
Sun May 04, 2003 at 07:40:54 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

Don Petit spends a Saturday morning off playing around with a piece of wire, a little water and some food coloring. Given that Petit is an astronaut on the Space Station, the results are surprising and fun to see.

The Space Station provides a long term micro gravity environment. Don Petit recently spent a morning off playing around with a piece of wire, a little bit of water and some food coloring. He had intended to make soap bubbles but got curious and wondered how pure water bubbles would behave in micro-gravity.

He recorded two videos that document the surprising effects. The first video documents the setup and the second documents the results.

About a third of the way through the second reel, he uses his wire hoop to capture a water sphere. He then starts drawing off water from the sphere with a towel. As the towel captures some of the water, the remaining water experiences three dimensional oscillations that vividly illustrate Lise Meitner's water bubble model.

In 1939, Lise Meitner was trying to decipher Otto Hahn's letter that told her he had bombarded Uranium with neutrons and found Boron as a product. Hahn didn't understand where the Boron came from and so wrote Meitner to see if she had any insights. Meitner had, until she fled the Nazis, collaborated with Hahn providing theory to explain Hahn's chemistry lab work.

While on a walk in the woods, she brainstormed with her nephew, Otto Frisch, to try to figure out Hahn's results. During that session, she suggested to Frisch that perhaps the Uranium nucleus, instead of being a rigid body, was similar to a water drop and that the impinging neutrons had caused the atom to rupture into smaller pieces. Watch the video to see water as Meitner imagined it over 60 years ago. The footage is about 1/3 of the way into the video. Or just watch the whole video to see images that would have fit right in at the Fillmore 35 years ago - a time when NASA was just a few years old.

Watching the video reminded me of the value of just screwing around. Sometimes you uncover something that is just plain neat. Sometimes you discover something that might be important. The sooner we can get into space cheaply - cheaply enough that people can afford to screw around up there for long stretches at a time without having to attend to a crammed schedule - the sooner we'll have a completely different perspective on the nature of things.

I for one, hope that Rutan, Carmack, Musk, the Chinese and NASA all figure out how to make it happen. The more paths to space the better.


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Water Will Wobble | 29 comments (12 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
microgravity experiments (5.00 / 2) (#7)
by adiffer on Sun May 04, 2003 at 04:43:22 AM EST

I've got an old video I taped during a shuttle flight when they used to do microgravity experiments.  In this one, water bubbles were made and then driven into oscillation via acoustic forces.  It was fun watching the water balls turn into dumbells and revolve at the same time.  

The also made small versions using some kind of oil and let the two come into contact.  If I remember right, the oil became trapped within the water and changed all the modes.

It was also fun to watch when they made mistakes.  Occasionally, some of theme would come apart with a big splat that took a while to clean up.

I put that tape in the machine every so often just to watch.  It's hypnotizing.
--BE The Alien!

got a link? (none / 0) (#20)
by neetij on Sun May 04, 2003 at 10:41:21 PM EST

any chance of digitizing it so us terrans can view it too? ;)

[ Parent ]
equipment (none / 0) (#22)
by adiffer on Mon May 05, 2003 at 05:06:21 PM EST

I don't have any equipment to do it, but one of our rocket guys does.  I'll see if he is interested in doing it.
--BE The Alien!
[ Parent ]
Me too! (none / 0) (#29)
by phuzz on Tue May 06, 2003 at 04:28:22 PM EST

I'd love to see that video as well, unfourtunatly I can't help in any way tho.

[ Parent ]
cool +1 fp nt (2.00 / 5) (#8)
by circletimessquare on Sun May 04, 2003 at 05:37:01 AM EST

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Er... (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by trhurler on Mon May 05, 2003 at 02:05:38 PM EST

Sorry, but this result seems obvious to me. I'm sure the video is neat, but it doesn't seem like the deep meaningful result you make it out as.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Damn! Pity you weren't a physicist 60 years ago. (2.00 / 1) (#23)
by the on Mon May 05, 2003 at 06:03:15 PM EST

We've really missed out because of your late birth!

The Definite Article
[ Parent ]
quite possible (none / 0) (#24)
by trhurler on Mon May 05, 2003 at 06:23:55 PM EST

Although it is also quite possible that physicists were simply busy doing other things at the time, and that seems more likely. They understood "surface tension" and "incompressible liquid," and that's all it takes to see what water will do under these circumstances. You're drawing out water at a more or less constant rate through a wicking effect, and the resultant change in the shape of the "water object" will deform it, but it "wants" to be spherical. The material can't be compressed, so you get oscillations. Where's the big surprise? This is predictable given the knowledge of Newton's contemporary inferiors, to say nothing of more recent(and therefore knowledgable,) or capable men.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Ah...you're not making claims about nuclei... (none / 0) (#25)
by the on Mon May 05, 2003 at 07:49:10 PM EST

If you're just talking water...this is a very expensive experiment to tell you the obvious.

The Definite Article
[ Parent ]
Exactly (none / 0) (#27)
by trhurler on Tue May 06, 2003 at 12:54:21 PM EST

And that was really my only point here:)

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Maybe to it was obvious to you (none / 0) (#28)
by cestmoi on Tue May 06, 2003 at 01:39:37 PM EST

but the image wasn't obvious to me. But heck, I'm just a hick.

I understood Meitner's model when I first read it years ago but until I saw that video I didn't have an image of what the nucleus would look like. I wasn't trying to say anything deep, I just think the video is pretty neat.

Unfortunately, it's a very expensive image which is why I hope the people who are actively seeking cheaper pathways to space succeed.

[ Parent ]

hmmm (none / 0) (#26)
by werty on Tue May 06, 2003 at 05:50:43 AM EST

In my micro-graivty expirements I have concluded that gravity sucks as it stops me dancing on the ceiling

Water Will Wobble | 29 comments (12 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
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