Reader Questions

Reader Question: Shower Curtains

Reader thansy asks:

Why do the bottoms of shower curtains drift in toward the water coming from the shower head?

We all know that moment. You’re minding your own business, scrubbing away, and all of a sudden, the shower curtain billows up and grabs you. Scientists have debated the cause of this behavior for years. Some argued that the curtain billowed due to hot air rising from the shower. Others claimed the fast-moving spray caused lift that pulled the curtain up. But fifteen years ago, one scientist tackled the problem computationally. He performed a numerical simulation of a shower head spraying into a bath and found that this spray of droplets creates a weak horizontal vortex in the shower.

This shower vortex has a low-pressure core at the middle, which is thought to provide the suction that causes the shower curtain to billow. The scientist, David Schmidt, was awarded the 2001 Ig Nobel Prize for his work. (Image credits: N. Paix, D. Schmidt; research credit: D. Schmidt)

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