There's so much noise about breakfast lately. Apparently, eating a morning meal makes you more focused, healthier and generally superhuman. It might seem like a lot of hype, but Andong He, a geologist at Yale, actually found a research topic in a bowl of cereal. So keep knocking that oatmeal back.
He found that two objects floating next to each other tend to maximize their contact area because they are subject to the capillary force, which stems from molecules of a solid attracting molecules of a liquid. In a controlled environment, one Cocoa Pebble floating in a sea of milk will not move, but multiple Pebbles will be brought together by the net force acting on each of them. Imperfections in the surface of the cereal can impact the direction of the force, causing rotation. Perfectly smooth objects will slide around each other.
He's research interests include fluid mechanics as applied in geology, so it's not totally out of left field for him to see the physics of his Wheaties. Working with Khoi Nguyen and Shreyas Mandre, both from Brown, He observed the movement of different floating plastic sheets, some with rough edges and some with smooth, to try and better understand the patterns created by floating objects, such as particles and seeds in nature. The research, published in Europhysics Letters, could also have applications in manufacturing where items float in water to regulate their temperature or minimize damage from hard contact. It could even contribute to systems of geometric self-assembly in materials processing and microelectronics. [Futurity]