Research

Settling in Straws

At some point in your life, you’ve probably stuck your finger over the end of a straw and used it to pick up the liquid you’re drinking. If you lift the straw so that the end is still in your drink and remove your finger from the top, the liquid level in the straw will drop, then bounce up and down a couple times before it settles. This is what we see happen in the series of snapshots in the top image. Eventually, the liquid level settles at its equilibrium position, marked by the red arrow at the far right.

The liquid has to bounce before settling because capillary forces and the liquid’s inertia are battling it out moment by moment. Just how long the rebound takes depends on the initial height of the fluid and the depth the straw is immersed at, but it doesn’t depend on the fluid’s viscosity. Lower viscosity fluids do sometimes have a neat jet (bottom image) that forms at the immersed end of the straw, though. (Image and research credit: J. Marston et al.)

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