Lots of links for you this time, but first a question or two. Have you ever wondered just how liquid fabric softener gets dispensed in your washing machine only when it’s needed? Or why shampoo is as thick as it is? How about a faster way to tie your shoe? In today’s Septober Shoutout to folks who make us think, we introduce you to the man with the questions, the answers, and compelling stories of how to try to arrive at them.
For over a decade, Britain’s Steve Mould, a physics scholar, writer, and stage and TV performer, has been creating YouTube videos to inspire and explain about science as he often comes upon it in everyday life. With objectivity, clarity, and no small helping of full-on fun, Steve deep-dives into what makes all manner of things tick, rigorously applying principles from his science background and apprising us of the whys every step of the way. Each episode is an absorbing tale of discovery and sense-making for Mould and for his million-plus subscribers.
Steve often collaborates in his intrepid quests with other similar YouTubers, some of whom have already or will appear in our ongoing shout-outs. The spirited dialogs are always aimed at finding explanations or achieving results, and often embody the spirit of communication, reflection, and cooperation that typifies the best of human endeavor. Feedback also takes the form of Steve’s subreddit, Pouring Out Science. You knew there had to be some pours coming somewhere, right?
Choosing one or two videos just wouldn’t cut it, so we took a small cross-section with a spill-and-coffee bent to serve you up a fresh, moist slice of mental marble cake for your breaktime indulgence. So here are your lots of links (Warning: the first video literally has some rather dramatically broken links. Safety goggles recommended):
- World Record Chain Fountain? The Mould Effect Explained – your typical late 20th century keychain on steroids. In a beaker. Atop a 45 meter bungee jumping crane.
- This Drill Powered Spool Proves Me Right – Steve Mould’s makeshift contraptions are half the fun. This was actually the third link in the chain fountain series.
- The liquid that pours itself – Polyethylene Oxide – This stuff has an action analagous to the chains. The professor who discovered the property by accident demonstrated it on “What’s My Line?” in 1967.
- How to make inverted bubbles – Bubbles had to figure in this somehow. See how the phenomenon applies to cell membranes.
- Chladni Figures – random couscous snaps into beautiful patterns – No beans to snap, but who can resist a title like Random Couscous? Playing sheet metal with a violin bow? Most normal thing in the world for Our Man Mould.
- The bizarre ripples that form in a stream of water – Nothing is too simple to fascinate an open mind.
- Bizarre liquid jets explained – the Kaye effect – We (and his wife) wonder what happened to all that ketchup, etc…
- The surprising sound coming from your coffee – A quickie from a fellow instant coffee sympathizer. And as a bonus lead-in to the next shout-out, Math Professor Takeshi Tokieda’s tangentially related take on Coffee Cup Vibrations on Numberphile. Takeshi also finds wonder in the commonplace.
All it takes to get Steve started is turning on a faucet or taking a broken bottle of shampoo out of a grocery bag. Or hearing a simple delay announcement at a train station. Or, you can send him your own suggestions on the subreddit or YouTube. What curiosity and understanding, what consistent critical thinking, what outside-the-box connections will he cultivate this week? Whatever it it is, you can be sure he’ll put the principles in the context of things we’ve all experienced. Making the unknown a little more familiar.