bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Saturday, March 13, 2004

The sticky question of honey dribbles

Have you ever wondered why honey dribbles and rarely breaks into drops like water? Danish researchers are getting closer to the the answer to this sticky problem.

Water coming out of a tap breaks into drops because of gravity, surface tension and “wobbles” (spatial disturbances). But honey and other viscous liquids come out in long threads. For more than a century scientists haven't been able to explain the conundrum. They did, however, show that gravity and surface tension don't cause honey to form droplets. Honey forms long thin threads that are very stable. Wobbles have a tough job causing a drip because honey flows faster than the wobble — it has to be a very big wobble to outrun by the the drip. To break the honey drip, you have to shake (or wobble) it quite violently. You can try this one at home by drizzling honey from a spoon and seeing how big a shake is required to make the honey break and form droplets.

If you still don't quite understand the technicalities, don't worry — it seems the scientists don't quite either.

But next time you are extracting honey and the tap leaks and the honey runs gracefully and silently on to the floor, you'll have a better idea why you weren't warned by the sound of drips. And you can give a great explanation to other household members wading through the sticky mess. They are bound to be fascinated.


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