A mathematics student has worked out the secrets of how chocolate behaves in a chocolate fountain, answering the age-old question of why the falling 'curtain' of chocolate surprisingly pulls inwards rather than going straight downwards.
The results are published today, 25th November 2015, in European Journal of Physics.
"Chocolate fountains are just cool, aren't they!" says Adam Townsend, an author on the paper, based on his MSci project. "But it's also nice that they're models of some very important aspects of fluid dynamics."
The conundrum of the converging curtain was solved by looking at some classic work on 'water bells'.
"You can build a water bell really easily in your kitchen" says Dr Helen Wilson, the other author of the paper, and supervisor during Townsend's MSci project. "Just fix a pen vertically under a tap with a 10p coin flat on top and you'll see a beautiful bell-shaped fountain of water."
The physics of the water bell is exactly the same as the falling curtain of chocolate; and the reason the chocolate falls inwards turns out to be primarily surface tension.
They also looked at the flow up the pipe to the top of the fountain, and the flow over the plastic tiers that form the distinctive chocolate fountain shape.
"Both the chocolate fountain and water bell experiments are surprisingly simple to perform." Dr Wilson continues. "However they allow us to demonstrate several aspects of fluid dynamics, both Newtonian and non-Newtonian."
The researchers were also pleased to see that their work allowed them to engage with the public.
"It's serious maths applied to a fun problem." continues Adam Townsend. "I've been talking about it at mathematics enrichment events around London for the last few years. If I can convince just one person that maths is more than Pythagoras' Theorem, I'll have succeeded. Of course, the same mathematics has a wide use in many other important industries - but none of them are quite as tasty as chocolate."
Townsend and Wilson don't consider the chocolate fountain licked; there is lots more to learn from looking at the way the curtain changes over time.
"This was only an undergraduate project - modelling the chocolate fountain completely would need a lot more detail. Thankfully, individual strands - like the screw-pump flow up the pipe - have applications well beyond chocolate, and international teams are working on them now." concludes Wilson.
Townsend is now finishing a PhD investigating suspensions of solid particles in fluids, supervised by Wilson in the Department of Mathematics at University College London.
EMBARGOED UNTIL: 00.01 (GMT) WEDNESDAY 25TH NOVEMBER
For further information, or to talk with one of the researchers, contact IOP Senior Press Officer, Steve Pritchard: Tel: 0117 930 1032 E-mail: email@example.com. For more information on how to use the embargoed material above, please refer to our embargo policy.
A full draft of the journal paper and several photos are available here: https:/
IOP Publishing Journalist Area
The IOP Publishing Journalist Area gives journalists access to embargoed press releases, advanced copies of papers, supplementary images and videos
Login details also give free access to IOPscience, IOP Publishing's journal platform. To apply for a free subscription to this service, please email the IOP Publishing Press team at firstname.lastname@example.org, with your name, organisation, address and a preferred username.
The fluid dynamics of the chocolate fountain
The published version of the paper 'The fluid dynamics of the chocolate fountain' (Eur. J. Phys. 37 015803) will be freely available online from Wednesday 25 November 2015.
It will be available at http://iopscience.
European Journal of Physics
With a world-wide readership and authors from every continent, European Journal of Physics is a truly international journal dedicated to maintaining and improving the standard of taught physics in universities and other higher education institutes.
IOP Publishing provides publications through which leading-edge scientific research is distributed worldwide.
IOP Publishing is central to the Institute of Physics, a not-for-profit society. Any financial surplus earned by IOP Publishing goes to support science through the activities of the Institute.
Go to ioppublishing.org or follow us @IOPPublishing.
The Institute of Physics
The Institute of Physics is a charitable organisation with a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application.