This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Physics of Making "Smoothies"

Frame from a video on the referenced article. Note the
cloudy region in the bottom of the liquid near the blades.
This is caused by minute bubbles created by cavitation at
the tips of the blades. The brown layer on top of the water
is oil.
Thanks to a colleague for pointing out an interesting article on shock waves in food blenders! Mathematician-turned-chef Chris Young and colleagues have collaborated in a series of articles to explain the science behind various cooking techniques. In this article, Young explains how the blades in the blender cut food up into small pieces, but then that the real work is done by small bubbles created by the blades through a process known as "cavitation."

Cavitation occurs when the pressure in a liquid drops below the equilibrium vapor pressure. It is a common occurrence in industrial settings, such as around the tips of rotating blades. Pressure drops occur in a variety of settings ranging from the flow of rivers around and over objects to flow in nozzles, to the wiggling of the tails and fins of swimming animals, and cavitation is a possibility in any of these settings. A bubble formed by cavitation is unstable. When such bubbles collapse, often asymmetrically, a tiny jet is formed. When these jets impinge on either the opposite sides of the bubble walls or on an adjacent surface, very high pressures, thousands of times atmospheric pressure, can occur. These jets erode the adjacent surfaces, causing structural damage.  Cavitation around the tips of dolphin or tuna tails may limit the speed with which these animals can swim! Cavitation is also a major problem at spillways from dams, and played a role in the near-failure of the bypass tubes during a major flood crisis at Glen Canyon Dam in 1983.

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