Spinning Polygons

Nature is full of surprising behaviors. If one imagines putting a bucket of water on a rotating plate and spinning it, one would expect the water’s free surface to take on a curved, axially symmetric shape. The photos above are from a similar experiment, but instead of the entire container rotating, only the bottom plate spins. Surprisingly, the water’s surface does not remain symmetric around the axis of rotation. Instead, the water forms stable polygon shapes that rotate slower than the spinning plate. As the plate’s rotation speed increases, the number of corners in the polygon increases. Shapes up to a hexagon were observed in the experiment. Photos of the set-up and more experimental results are available, as is the original research paper. Symmetry breaking and polygons can also be found in hydraulic jumps and bumpsliquid sheets, and planetary polar vortices. (Photo credit: T. Jansson et al.; research paper)

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