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17 April 2014 12:48 pm ,
Vol. 344 ,
Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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ScienceShot: A Mystery in a Teapot
22 November 2013 11:15 am
For centuries, physicists have made their living by illuminating the secrets of our universe, from gravity to electricity to black holes. But among the search for Higgs bosons and the endless unspooling of string theories, there remained a particularly glaring mystery: Why does a teakettle whistle? “Oh that,” they said, standing at their stoves in between bouts of programming supercomputers. “Vibrations. Or something.” Now, we are happy to report, human intellect has at last triumphed over the dark shadow of ignorance and solved the conundrum lurking within one of our lowest-tech kitchen appliances. After years ensconced in the ivory tower of the University of Cambridge in in the United Kingdom, a team of researchers has emerged with an accurate mathematical model of a teakettle’s whistle. It has not one but two phases, they tell us. The first begins as the steam is forced into a jet by the kettle’s narrow spout; as the rushing air is compressed and then escapes into your kitchen, it vibrates with the frequency of a welcoming whistle. But the water inside the kettle is still boiling, sending more and more steam through the spout at faster and faster speeds. When the flow speed passes a certain point, tiny whirlpools form in the steam and radiate sound waves that eventually overtake the original vibrations. The new model is so accurate that physicists can now predict the pitch of any kettle’s whistle. And having solved another mystery of our vast but perhaps ultimately knowable universe, they smile and sip their tea.