Research

Ice Cream Vortex

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Here’s a fun demonstration of vorticity: sticking an ice cream cone in a bathtub vortex. Now, before someone points out that this is clearly a sink, not a bathtub, the term “bathtub vortex” actually has a standard scientific usage; it’s used to describe a vortex that forms when water drains out a small hole in a larger container.

Vortices like this have a surprisingly complex flow structure. Although there is some flow dragged into the vortex near the surface, flow visualization shows that most of the flow actually occurs along the bottom of the container. Fluid there gets dragged along the surface, then sucked upward near the center of the vortex, and finally gets pulled down the drain.

So what’s going on here? As long as the ice cream cone stays balanced inside the center of the vortex, it spins with the fluid due to viscous drag. When it’s unbalanced – like when it precesses too far or throws a chunk of cone off –  I suspect the bottom of the cone is encountering that area of upwelling, which tips the cone completely. The surface flow then pulls it back into the center of the vortex, allowing it to right itself. (Video credit: Cheesemadoodles; research credit: A. Anderson et al.; submitted by randumblrposts and eclecticca)

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