The Physics of Water and Tibetan Bowls- Part Two

Well, to someone else this might have just been a cool and interesting video- it certainly was to me! But it was also much more than that. I was immediately intrigued because what I saw in the video somehow reminded me of what was happening in the bowls. It was clearly not the same but definitely seemed related. I immediately went to the MIT website and was able to find the email address of John Bush, the math professor on the video. (If you don't know what I'm talking about see last week's blog post.) I was hoping perhaps he could explain what I was seeing. I didn't really expect a response and actually felt a little shy about it but my curiosity far outweighed my sense of awkwardness.

I wrote John an email the same day- in fact probably within the hour of seeing the video because I was so excited about what I had been observing and the possibility of an explanation. I described as best I could what I had been seeing and asked him if he was familiar with the singing bowls. I really figured that even if he hadn't witnessed this in the bowls that he may have been familiar with it in some other capacity and that it was probably some boring "old news" to him and since he was some really important busy guy from MIT the chances of hearing from him were slim at best!

In fact I heard from him within 24-48 hours of sending the email and he was very interested in what I was observing. He said it sounded like the phenomena of "walking droplets" his friend and colleague Yves Couder had been exploring. He attached an article describing the walking droplets and I was pretty convinced that this was exactly what I had been seeing when I played the bowls with water in them. He was not familiar with the bowls beyond that he thought he might have heard one at one time.
This is the URL for the article. Unfortunately I could not get the link to work in this post but you can cut and paste the URL into your browser and it should work.

We continued a dialogue and because it fit right into the work he was already doing, within a short time he had a grant to study the fluid dynamics of the water in Tibetan bowls, specifically in relationship to the wave-particle phenomena in quantum mechanics, previously a theoretical foundation but unproven (and/or not disproven) on a macrocosmic level. I picked out a couple of bowls for him that best displayed the action and they were soon at home in the MIT Math Lab. Before I sent off the bowls though I couldn't resist my own humble demonstration for the world to see.

The bowls I used in this video were two of the bowls I sent to MIT.

Not long after that I was in Massachusetts visiting my mother less than an hour away from Boston and I was invited to come to the Math Lab to see what they were doing. I was very excited! It was pretty much what you would expect of a lab that was studying fluid dynamics- lots of faucets set up at different heights and beautiful large format photographs of drops of water, water patterns and insects walking on the surface of water. And on a white formica counter top was a Tibetan bowl that had been marked in four places around the edge with a Sharpy- clearly the spots where the waveforms would first begin to emerge as it responded to the sound. The bowl had a wire attached to it from a large speaker which would resonate the bowl when they turned it on. That way they could keep the sound at a steady volume to observe and film what was happening. So basically the bowl vibrated by sympathetic resonance rather than someone manually playing it. It was very cool and odd and interesting to see this sacred sound object being used as the centerpoint of a science experiment. The whole question initially was whether they could get the water to "walk". They were excited to try it with silicon fluid because of the difference in viscosity. (Excerpt from an email a couple of weeks later:
"I just came up from the lab, where Denis has seen bouncing of drops of silicon oil in Bowl #1.
Tomorrow, walking!")

All in all I sent them four bowls. I spent lots of time trying out bowls to see which ones really worked the best with the water, in terms of showing the unusual movement of the fluid. I have gotten so that I can tell just by looking at the shape of a bowl whether it will respond especially well with water in it. I am always amazed and fascinated and sometimes still totally surprised by what I see. For example, a few days ago we put water in a smaller bowl, less than four inches across and the droplets formed a beautiful symmetrical pattern all clustered together in the center of the bowl.

The research project was completed in a little over a year and three weeks ago John Bush sent me the original article plus a short article that was in the BBC. It has received a lot of press in various physics and science magazines. This is the link to the article in the BBC: (Again, you'll have to cut and paste the link. Sorry)
The videos are fascinating so if you don't feel like reading the articles watch this.
This first one is silent but very interesting:

The bowl in the video of the attached article is one of the ones I sent them. He also gifted one to his good friend Yves Couder who I believe was the original inspiration for the research project.
Here is the video from the BBC article.

I am sort of an insane fanatic now and spend absurd amounts of time playing bowls with water in them and watching, watching, watching. Not only that, I find myself watching all kinds of other drops of fluid. Every morning I take a liquid sulphur supplement and I have to count the drops as I add it to water because I have to take a very specific amount. It seems to have an odd consistency and the bouncing is very obvious.