Earlier this week, a Twitter user stacked one ceramic bowl on top of another. What followed was one of the most exciting social media journeys in recent times.
On June 6, Chi Nguyen, an artist from New York, took to Twitter to ask her followers for help with a situation: while washing dishes a few days earlier, one of her bowls got stuck inside another and it has been bothering her ever since. .
“Why am I so invested?” Is it over there he wrote. “I tried to fix this for two days and I can’t give up now.”
Until then, Nguyen had tried all sorts of things to separate his beloved bowls. Soap water, hot water, cold water, oil, microwave, up to WD-40. Nothing was working.
Soon his attempts became more abstract. Nguyen put the bowls in a freezer, tapped them with a rubber mallet, tried to separate them with thin objects – but nothing was working.
Soon Nguyen’s situation attracted a lot of attention. His original tweet attracted tens of thousands of likes and thousands of replies and retweets. Some people gave advice, while others joked.
“Did you try to politely ask the smaller bowl out?” wrote a user. “Why are we blaming the small bowl?” retorted another. “Why not order the larger bowl to drop?” It didn’t matter to the bowls, they were decidedly where they were.
On June 7, Nguyen tried twisting the bowls, turning them upside down overnight and placing them in the dishwasher. She tried the diplomatic route, making passive-aggressive comments to both bowls. The attempts affected the smaller bowl, which had a chip on the rim.
On June 8, Nguyen sent out waves via Twitter announcing that the bowls had been separated. “OMG WE DID IT”, she he wrote, posting a picture of the independent cups. The straw that broke the camel’s back, or in this case separated some bowls, was hitting them on a mat.
On Thursday afternoon, Nguyen’s original tweet gained 150,000 likes and counting, and news of their split spread.
So what happened? Could the smaller bowl have forced air out of the larger one, creating a vacuum between the two that was difficult to break?
Chris Howard, professor of materials physics at University College London, said newsweek there was a lot to consider.
First, the bowls are ceramic and therefore difficult to deform. This would make it difficult to maintain a vacuum, which is why engineers sometimes use rubber o-rings if they want to artificially create one.
However, Nguyen was doing the dishes, which means the bowls were wet. “Water is a very ‘sticky’ molecule, so a thin film can form the [vacuum] we’re looking for,” Howard told Newsweek.
“Also, the water was presumably hot and then cooled while the poster finished doing more dishes. The pressure above hot water is greater than that of cold water – the water molecules that are in the gas phase have more energy as higher the temperature.
“So my guess is that when the bowls cooled down, some of the small amount of hot water vapor left between them condensed into cold water, decreasing the pressure between the bowls. The relative vacuum compared to the outside air pressure is maintained by the ‘seal’ of the water film where the bowls touch.”
Tom Hayward, Senior Lecturer in Materials Physics at the University of Sheffield in the UK, also commented. newsweek the idea of a vacuum seal is “reasonable” and that a water seal to contain it would be possible. Doing a quick calculation – making a lot of assumptions about the space between the bowls and their shapes – he suggested that the force needed to pull them apart would have to be approximately 500 newtons. This is equivalent to lifting 50 kg.
“The other possibility that occurs to me is that the two bowls could have different coefficients of thermal expansion,” he said. “When the bowls were placed in the hot water, they expanded to different degrees – the outer one more than the inner one – and then squeezed as they cooled and contracted back to their initial shapes. Friction between two surfaces increases with force. that pushes them together and that can make things hard to separate.” Again, this is a gross assumption.
In the end, we don’t know exactly what caused the bowls to merge. The bottom line is to be mindful when doing the dishes, because physics is full of surprises.