Material Properties

Trip Start Oct 22, 2008
Trip End ??? ??, 2009

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Sunday, October 26, 2008

I demanded to celebrate the British tradition of tea this morning, so, to my surprise, Henry and I went to a tea-house (I thought tea was something done in the home).  The tea house we went to was jam-packed with science.

The first thing I noticed was the way tea poured into the teacup would roll sideways as droplets, rather than rejoin the larger liquid tea-mass.  I noticed the same effect while kayaking on the San Francisco Bay, when
water would sheet off the kayak paddle and skitter off the water.  I assumed it was due to oil on the water rising up out of toxic Alameda Point, but when I pointed it out to my mechanical engineer friend Corwin, he shrugged and asked, "Doesn't water always do that?"  I think it has something to do with surface energy.  I took a video and I want to know more:

I wonder, if Isaac Newton could have been given a digital camera to document all the things he found intriguing in the world, what he would have filmed.

On the subject of surface energy, Henry noted that it's cool how a surface can break up a structure, e.g., I could break up my sugar cube faster by repeatedly drawing the crystals through the tea-atmosphere interface.  Only in Britain.  I didn't get a video of the time it worked spectacularly but you get the gist:

The tea did have an oily sheen on top that behaved in many strange and interesting ways.  When I stirred my tea, the oily skin, the bubbles in it, and all the steam rising off the top stayed in place while the tea swirled below.

Bubbles rising in the tea from beneath would rise to the top, but move sideways to the edges, instead of breaking the surface.  The steam didn't all rise off entirely - some of it stayed near the surface of the tea, and could be blown around but not blown away, like dust.  In the oil and steam-dust, heat currents formed like currents in molten iron.  Every now and then, the oil appeared to fracture, like a kaleidoscope.

We started talking about material properties, including my favorite, angle of repose.  Angle of repose describes the maximum angle a pile of stuff can make before avalanches start.  Piles of sand, grain in silos, volcanoes, cliffs, ski resorts and snow shelters all depend on angle of repose, which in turn depends on particle surface area, density, and friction.

I also discovered that the light fixtures had neat parabolic reflectors that were astoundingly good at focusing heat down at the tables they were pointed at in a nearly non-divergent beam.  My hand was heated with almost uncomfortable warmth as it merely passed in front of the light.

It's amusing to note that Angle of Repose and Angle of Attack are engineering terms that have nothing to do with each other.

Then it was time for Teslathon!  Teslathon's a small convention of high voltage enthusiasts that make such big things I actually heard about Teslathon in San Francisco.  The whole thing culminated with a giant thermite explosion on ice.  Supposedly, the thermite causes the ice to sublimate into hydrogen and oxygen gas, which explodes.  Several large bricks were never found again:

After Teslathon, Henry, Fergus and I went to a "Formal" at Emmanuel College.  It's formal because everyone wears "jacket gowns" which are like graduation robes that are too short to sit on, and because you have to use the right fork.  I learned, in the course of the meal, that "Formal" is code for "everyone gets really drunk on wine".   Some of the college's medical students were in attendance as well, in "initiation" garb which was the same as zombies with measles costumes.

I really like that living groups aren't sorted at all by age or discipline.  So Ph.Ds live amongst bachelors seekers, law, medical, and Masters students as well.  MIT has a strong atmosphere of 'our major versus yours' which is dumb, and at other schools 'our class/year versus all the rest', which is worse.  Here, you make friends across all boards and maybe I'm just wearing rose colored glasses but it seems like a better situation.  Even though it involves "formals".

So you can understand that the level of formality at the formals is fairly low, or at least it's very nominal.  I rocked a flightsuit under a borrowed "jacket gown" and proceeded to learn the traditions of the old institution.  Lesson learned?  Don't drink with the English.
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