Sunday, July 1, 2007

Swirling Legends from the Southern Hemisphere

Do sinks and bathtubs in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres drain differently? In the Simpsons episode "Bart vs. Australia" Lisa claims that they do because of what is called the Coriolis Effect. Is that fair dinkum (for real)?

I asked Australian physicist Joe Wolfe, an award-winning science educator, to imagine what he would say to Bart and Lisa if they visited him at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Here's how he pictured such a scenario:

"G'day Bart and Lisa! Delighted to meet you.

So, water in the bathtub. As you've come all this way, let's take some time to look at this carefully. Sydney is suffering a drought at the moment, but in the interests of science, let's put several centimeters of water in the bath, the sink and the hand basins at my place. We'll also put these pieces of wire in the plugs so that we can pull them out without disturbing the water. Now let's go across to Coogee Beach and catch a few waves while we leave the water settle -- we're allowing any currents caused by filling the basins up to die away..."

What do Bart and Lisa discover when they return??

Find out the rest of the story and the surprising answer to the Australian draining mystery in:

What's Science Ever Done For Us? What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Robots, Life, and the Universe

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