Research

Shark Tooth Instability

Imagine that you partially fill a horizontal cylinder with a viscous fluid, like corn syrup or honey. If that cylinder is still, the fluid will simply pool along the bottom. On the opposite extreme, if you spin it very fast, that cylinder will become coated in an even layer of fluid that rotates along with the cylinder thanks to centrifugal force. Between those two extremes in rotational velocity, some interesting fluid behaviors occur. Start spinning the cylinder and some of the pooled fluid will be pulled up the sides, eventually forming a thicker film with a straight front along the bottom of the cylinder. Spin faster and that straight front starts to break down, forming sharper cusp-like waves known as shark teeth. (Image credit: S. Morris et al., source; research credit: S. Thoroddsen and L. Mahadevan)

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