Research

Skipping Squishy Spheres

Skipping a stone on water requires a flat, disk-like stone thrown at a shallow angle, but elastic spheres are remarkable skippers, too, even at higher impact angles. Researchers at the Splash Lab have just published their work on why these balls skip so well. As seen in the top animation, the elastic spheres deform on impact, flattening to a more disk-like shape that rides at an angle of attack relative to the air-water interface. Both features are important to the spheres’ enhanced skipping. By flattening, the sphere comes into greater contact with the water and by orienting at a larger angle of attack, the sphere increases the vertical component of force the water generates on the sphere. It’s this vertical force that lifts the sphere up and lets it keep bouncing.

Because the ball is soft, it keeps deforming after its impact and bounce (see top animation). For some skips, the timescale of the sphere’s elastic waves is smaller than the length of time the sphere is in contact with the water. When this is the case, the sphere’s elastic waves will affect the impact cavity in the water, forming what the researchers call a

matryoshka cavity, after the Russian nesting dolls. An example is shown in the second animation. For more, check out the USU press releasethe original paper, or the award-winning video they made a few years ago.  (Image credits: J. Belden et al./The Splash Lab)

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