Friday, January 27, 2006

The Hot Chocolate Effect - or- It's All About the Bubbles

Ok - this has (embarrassingly) been befuddling me for quite some time now:

  1. Get a ceramic cup, fill it with coffee, add coffee creamer (the disgusting powdered, non-lactose kind).
  2. Start tapping your spoon at the bottom of the cup.
  3. Observe the pitch of the sound rising by more than an octave as you continue tapping.
I had been speculating that this had something to do with the molecular structure of the cup being altered due to the stress of the tapping, but I hadn't thought of looking it up in Google until my office-mate Andre suggested I do so.

The search results showed my theory was clearly way out in left-field - it actually has to do with the molecular-structure of the coffee, not the cup. By tapping, you cause the bubbles in the coffee to rise to the surface, altering the stiffness of the fluid. The best explanation of all of this was provided by Shawn Carlson in response to the same question by a curious Bob Hall in the's E-Bulletin from 02 April, 2004: E-Bulletin Backscatter (scroll halfway down)

Another version of the explanation was given in a paper by Andrew Morrison and Thomas D. Rossing, both at the Physics Department, Northern Illinois University: Sound of a Cup With and Without Instant Coffee: A Foam-Filled Acoustics Demonstration

Apparently the same effect can be demonstrated in beer. I should go do that.

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  • How come this never happend with the coffee or the chocolate they served at the KIS dining hall?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wednesday, April 19, 2006 2:47:00 AM  

  • My theory would be that since the KIS cups were made from some freaky rubber-plastic that got quite soft when heated up, they were unable to make any kind of tapping sound.

    The bigger mystery surrounding the KIS dining hall would be how they managed to make the beef uncuttable and unchewable. Whatever process they used, they might as well start applying it towards making bullet-proof vests.

    By Blogger Oskar, at Wednesday, April 19, 2006 8:05:00 AM  

  • Ah.. the beef at the KIS dining hall... As wierd as it may seem, I do sometimes long for the oily fried chicken and "ice" cream on a Sunday afternoon. Those were the day eh, Per?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thursday, April 20, 2006 3:25:00 AM  

  • Yeah, I guess. So who's this?

    By Blogger Oskar, at Wednesday, April 26, 2006 2:12:00 PM  

  • Rubesh

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tuesday, May 02, 2006 1:40:00 AM  

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