Thursday, April 4, 2013

When engineers get mad

Last night Andrew and I got into a fight about fluid dynamics. Yep. See, I had been trying to recreate this weather experiment on cyclones and anti-cyclones:, but I couldn’t get the dynamic profile to fully develop. If you don’t have time to click on the video, just know that the experimental set up is a can of ice set inside a pan of rheologic fluid which is in turn set inside a larger pan. The entire apparatus is spinning on a turntable, and at the start of the experiment, hot water is poured into the second, larger pan. The setup is a model of the earth: The can of ice models the cold “north pole”, and the hot water warms up the equator (the outside edge of the inner pan).

In the video, you can see three cyclones and three anti-cyclones form, and in between them is a continuous line which is a model for the jet stream. But when I tried to repeat the experiment, I never got steady cyclones or anti-cyclones; I just saw small transient cyclones form at the “north pole.” The video is only a demonstration and therefore doesn’t give a step-by-step methodology, so I wasn’t sure which critical thing I was missing. One of the differences between my set up and the one in the video, however, is that I have a Lazy Susan, and not an electric turntable, so I couldn’t start the rotation until after I had poured in the hot water, but I was pretty sure that wouldn’t matter. I thought I’d ask Andrew what he thought, though. You should note that I had shown Andrew the video the night before, so I thought he was familiar with the setup.

But Andrew said the lack of rotation would make a difference, because the hot water would make hot spots. I blinked. What? Hot spots? In the outer pan? I stared at him, confused. “No it wouldn’t,” I said, lamely.

“Of course it would!” he said. “The hot water would make one part hot before it could get everywhere!”

Again, I was at a loss. Did Andrew not understand that water… flows? “But the water doesn’t just stay in one place!” I said. “How could it make a hot spot?”

I won’t repeat the whole argument word for word, although, actually, I pretty much already did. We basically just kept repeating those two statements back and forth to each other, with growing frustration. “It HAS to create a hot spot!” “But the water doesn’t just stay still!”

Eventually, he said he couldn’t talk to me about it anymore, because he was just too aggravated. I, however, insisted that we continue. “I think you are not understanding something,” I said, “Because it cannot make a hot spot! The water is being poured into an empty pan. It goes all over the pan! It flows!”

“Wait… you’re not pouring the water into the fluid?” Andrew asked.

OH THANK GOODNESS. So here’s what was happening. Andrew thought I was pouring hot water into a cold fluid and failing to understand that this would create a hot spot before the mixture had time to come to thermal equilibrium, something that I should understand very well given my degree in chemical engineering which is basically the study of heat transfer and fluid flow. But to me, it seemed like Andrew was failing to understand that when you pour water into a dish it will not stack up on top of itself but will instead flow into the pan, something that Andrew should understand very well given that he has POURED WATER BEFORE.

I tell you, we argued about this for a good ten minutes. And I think we had such trouble finding different words to explain what we were talking about, because what each of us WANTED to say was, “WHY ARE YOU BEING AN IDIOT?”


Joy said...

Too funny!
Did he have any ideas why the cyclones weren't forming?

Becca said...

I totally understand all of this as Ryan and I had a conversation this morning while he was in the shower that included the words "delta T".

HereWeGoAJen said...

Matt and I have arguments like this quite often. Usually about different areas of expertise though, since neither of us are engineers. But yes, exactly.

KarenAZ said...

OMG! I thought those fights only happened at my house. Nice to know we aren't the only crazy people out there.

Carmen said...

Leo and I, both being scientists as well, often argue about things. In our case, they're mostly about his pathological need to leave dirty socks tangled up in his underwear in the middle of the bedroom floor.