Swirling the Wrong Way

Bubbles in a counter-clockwise-rotating cup rotate in a clockwise direction

When you swirl wine, you create a rotating wave that travels in the direction that you’re moving the glass. You would expect that anything floating atop that fluid would travel in the same direction of rotation. But it turns out, for a large, thin raft floating atop the rotating fluid, that’s not the case.

Above you can see a swirling container, rotating counter-clockwise, with a raft of foam. This is from a timelapse where only one photo is taken per rotation, so that it’s easier to see how the foam is rotating relative to the container. And, once enough foam covers the surface, it starts rotating in a clockwise direction – opposite the container! It works for more than foam, too. The researchers show that the same holds for powders or beads. The key to the counter-rotation is that the raft needs to be coherent; it has to be able to transmit friction and internal stress among its constituents. Otherwise, the raft will just drift along with the swirling wave. (Image and research credit: F. Moisy et al., source, arXiv; via Improbable Research; submitted by David H. and Kam-Yung Soh)

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