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Everyday science

What makes a physics experiment go viral?

26 Feb 2015 Tushna Commissariat

By Tushna Commissariat

Physics experiments are not normally the stuff of “viral” videos on the Internet, but that is precisely what happened when physics students at the University of Bath in the UK decided to get creative with the Leidenfrost effect. If you are a regular reader of Physics World, you may get that déjà vu feeling when you watch the video above of water droplets zipping about the “Leidenfrost maze” built by (at the time undergraduates) Carmen Cheng and Matthew Guy – but rest assured you have seen it right here on this blog in 2013 when editor Hamish Johnston wrote about it before it amassed a whopping 120,150 views on YouTube.

Indeed, the maze got so much coverage in the international media that it ended up being featured on BBC 2’s comedy panel show QI last October. Host Stephen Fry actually gave a pretty neat explanation of the effect and then demonstrated how the maze works (you can take a look at the video here, but be warned – it contains adult humour).

Following the unequivocal success of their maze, the researchers have now published a paper in the European Journal of Physics, published by IOP Publishing, which also publishes physicsworld.com. The paper discusses not only their experiment, but also – indeed, mainly – the viral nature of the response to their video. The researchers point out that some of the comments on the video such as, “I feel sorry for the poor droplets” or “I can almost hear the droplets go ‘Ouch, ouch, hot, hot, ouch!’ ” were common, and that “some viewers expressed that they found the droplets cute” – the kind of feedback that most physicists are not used to receiving!

 

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