A team of U.S. scientists says it has figured out the physics of how drips of icy water can swell into the skinny spikes we call icicles.
University of Arizona researchers Martin Short, James Baygents and Raymond Goldstein last year determined stalactites have a unique underlying shape described by a strikingly simple mathematical equation.
Once the researchers found a mathematical representation of the stalactite’s shape, they began to wonder if the solution applied to other similarly shaped natural formations caused by dripping water.
So the team decided to investigate icicles. Although other scientists have studied how icicles grow, they had not found a formula to describe icicles’ shape. But the Arizona team found the same mathematical formula that describes the shape of stalactites also describes the shape of icicles.
Everyone knows what an icicle is and what it looks like, so this research is very accessible. I think it is amazing that science and math can explain something like this so well. It really highlights the beauty of nature, Short said.
The study was published in the August issue of the journal Physics of Fluids