Phenomena

Kugel Fountains

A little girl spins a 9-ton sphere by hand.

At science museums and tourist attractions around the world, visitors can spin the multi-tonne spheres of kugel fountains with the brush of their hand. The secret of the sphere’s mobility is aquaplaning – the same phenomenon that can cause cars to lose traction in wet conditions. In these fountains, the massive sphere sits in a precisely-shaped cup, with their surfaces separated by a thin layer of water. The entire system acts like a hydrostatic bearing, which allows the sphere to move freely. But even a relatively small disruption can destroy the effect, as happened to the Science Museum of Virginia’s original Grand Kugel after it cracked. (Image credit: E. Roberts; via Atlas Obscura; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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