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Fifth Use of a Physics Degree: Proceed to Nerd Out
August 17, 2014 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Amusing Surface Tension Experiment (SLYT) Mad science with a ball point pen, cup of water and a bit of liquid soap.

Surprisingly educational and accessible. With a dash of humor and fun.
posted by Michele in California (25 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Metafilter: Surprisingly educational and accessible. With a dash of humor and fun.
posted by Fizz at 4:10 PM on August 17


I like this person. She seems fun.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:18 PM on August 17 [1 favorite]


Yes, I definitely like this. That was so cool!

She had me at "...I just said 'childrens'"
posted by obfuscation at 5:26 PM on August 17


Yeah, she's a hoot. Plus, this looks like a great party trick (like i ever go to parties).
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:27 PM on August 17


I liked her hat.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:35 PM on August 17


Quick question: if you didn't know about the mechanisms of surface tension before, do you feel better informed now? Well enough to explain it to someone else?
posted by Devonian at 6:02 PM on August 17 [1 favorite]


That's how I open my pens when I need to change the cartridges too.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:12 PM on August 17


MetaFilter: Yes, I just said childrens.
posted by arcticseal at 6:19 PM on August 17


Yay, surface tension! The best practical application of this is my favorite kitchen tip:

To prevent drips when you're ladling something, dip the ladle into the first container of liquid and lift it up out of the liquid as usual. Then, touch the bottom of the ladle back down to the top of the liquid. This will pull the liquid off the bottom of the ladle, enabling you to transport the liquid to the second container without a single drop of spillage. (If you have something like a super-chunky soup you'll have to make a little space for the ladle to touch down.)
posted by Room 641-A at 6:59 PM on August 17 [8 favorites]


Reminds me of the late, great Beakman's World.
posted by Soliloquy at 8:12 PM on August 17


She is annoyingly 'random' in a monkey-cheese way.
posted by angerbot at 8:15 PM on August 17 [7 favorites]


Jenna Marbles, is that you?
posted by zardoz at 8:27 PM on August 17


Quick question: if you didn't know about the mechanisms of surface tension before, do you feel better informed now? Well enough to explain it to someone else?

Actually, yes; I have a decent amount of general science knowledge but wasn't quite clear on how surface tension worked, and her explanation gave me an understanding that meshes well with what I know about water already. All of the kids' science stuff I was exposed to when I was younger covered "soap disrupts surface tension", but never actually explained what surface tension is and why it's a thing.
posted by NMcCoy at 10:16 PM on August 17 [3 favorites]


zardoz: "Jenna Marbles, is that you?"

First thing I thought of. Although, I don't think Jenna could even try to keep up with this woman. Actually, that might be a good challenge. Jenna Marbles, explain surface tension and show us how it might be defeated. I think Jenna would just swear like a drunken sailor repeatedly while showing us another way she could do her make up.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:59 PM on August 17


I never realized surface tension had such dramatic tension.
posted by bwilms at 3:12 AM on August 18


Scary purple gloves aside, that was quite cool.
posted by Solomon at 4:19 AM on August 18


I loved the presentation and the presenter, and I'd think it wouldn't take too long to get really good - there's a bit of straining for effect, but this is exactly how you go about finding your sweet spot as a presenter, give it everything and let things reach their proper equilibrium over a few episodes.

What I don't know - and this isn't snark, this really is a problem I've always had - is how much science is the right amount. That depends on the intended audience and the presenter's ability to present abstract ideas, as well as the subject matter, so perhaps there's no one answer.

In my dream job, I'd be taking stuff like this video and stitching it into a place where viewers could follow all the rabbit holes it opens up, as deep as they liked. (This being science, that means all the rabbit holes, full stop, but that's rather the point...)

I hesitate to say the gamification of Wikipedia, because that's ugly, but it's not exactly wrong.
posted by Devonian at 5:40 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Ugh, this was nearly unwatchable for me, just so over-the-top with the presentation. Cringeworthy really.

Cool effect though!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:46 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I loved the presentation and the presenter, and I'd think it wouldn't take too long to get really good - there's a bit of straining for effect, but this is exactly how you go about finding your sweet spot as a presenter, give it everything and let things reach their proper equilibrium over a few episodes.

What I don't know - and this isn't snark, this really is a problem I've always had - is how much science is the right amount. That depends on the intended audience and the presenter's ability to present abstract ideas, as well as the subject matter, so perhaps there's no one answer.


I felt she was trying to be funny. For various reasons, I think that pairs well with doing "smart" things like this. I was okay with it being kind of cheesy and over the top.

I was impressed with how well thought the camera angles and stuff were. I mean I think a lot of people would have done this without, say, doing a close up of the spring actually floating. And getting that what to focus on, when part right is part of why I think this is brilliant. I imagine most presenters would have failed at that aspect.

And I like your idea of being able to follow it down all the rabbit holes but I think, realistically, you would probably need to pick a target audience and appropriate level of rabbit-hole-i-ness. I think the above snippet would probably work well for kids or, say, college students but the level of rabbit hole that follows each of those would be dramatically different.
posted by Michele in California at 9:28 AM on August 18


trying to be funny is accurate.
posted by stenseng at 10:54 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


It's really hard to do Alton Brown style self-aware jump-cut fooling about. Even AB knows when to hold the shot for a single take, and the overproduced silliness is best used to bookend the demonstration. Stuff like puppets or character actors are used for the entirety of the demo itself, never drawing the viewer out of the analogy the belching yeast puppets or Lever Man was trying to get across.

Her presentation made it harder to follow along with what she wast trying to get across, and worse, she glossed over the science part in a hurry to go back to mugging at the camera.

By way of comparison, a woman who does whimsey and education exceptionally well is Vi Hart.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:14 PM on August 18


When I was a kid I used to do this water boatmen on ponds.

I am truly not proud of it.
posted by Decani at 2:18 PM on August 18


I knew the spring would float because of surface tension but the explanation just confused me. "Wait, why is one water molecule bigger than the others? Slow down. Hang on you just said the molecules push up but you have an arrow pointing down I don't get it. No wait, stop go back. Well, shit."

Also is surface tension just a water thing or do all liquids have it?
posted by um at 4:41 PM on August 18


Different liquids have different surface tensions. Plain water has a particular amount of surface tension. Water with a little bit of detergent dissolved in it has a smaller amount of surface tension. Water has more surface tension than some common household alcohols (ethanol, isopropanol).

There's stupid internet debate on whether anything could have a zero surface tension, but the meta consensus is that by strict definition, probably practically not.

Molecule-level interactions are kind of hard to explain in a macro way, but easier than quantum. If you ignore the impossibility of 1-poled magnets (say, N) (they stick to the opposite pole and to metals but not to their own pole), imagine a big tub filled with marbles that repel each other but are pretty heavy so they push down on the ones below it. Like a mini hover-ballpit of hover marbles maybe an inch or two apart. They're crammed in there good and you can place a big hardcover book on top and it'd just float there mostly on top of the top layers of magic unipolar magnetic marbles.

Adding detergent is like throwing a handful of opposite-poled magnets (S) in there. Some of the N will stick to and neutralize the S, and the two of them drift downwards affected merely by gravity. The remaining magic marbles are now further apart from each other - possibly letting your book fall through the gaps - and being further apart from each other means their repulsion is decreased which lets the book sag down below the surface level until the marbles around the book are close enough to another marble to repel against gravity and stop drifting down. If the book falls too far down then the top comes over and swallows it.

Instead of detergent as in the FPP you could probably expand the idea with adding different kinds of pure salts to the water see how you can decrease surface tension while increasing buoyancy (like in the dead sea, or salt- vs. fresh-water).
posted by porpoise at 9:14 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


To extend the crappy analogy, which real physicists will yell at me for, that's why if you drop a needle parallel with the surface of the liquid, it'll end up floating more often than not. If you drop a needle nose-first, it'll pierce the surface every time.

Water has a strangely high surface tension. Water also has weird freezing/boiling temperature properties. Water is really good at compartmentalization at the scales that cells are at (or maybe cells are that size because of the properties of water). Because, or maybe despite, of these oddities water is part of (virtually) all life on Earth. That's partially why people get excited when astronomers find extrasolar worlds with lots of water.
posted by porpoise at 9:36 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


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