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Consider the Icicle

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Icicles are harmless and picturesque winter phenomena, familiar to anyone who lives in a cold climate. The shape of an icicle emerges from a subtle feedback between ice formation, which is controlled by the release of latent heat, and the flow of water over the evolving shape. Many natural icicles exhibit a ripply shape, which is the result of a morphological instability. The wavelength of the ripples is remarkably independent of the growing conditions. Similar shape and ripple phenomena are also observed on stalactites, although certain details of their formation differ. We built a laboratory icicle growing machine to explore icicle physics. We learned what it takes to make an ideal icicle and the surprising origin of the ripples.

Work done with Antony Szu-Han Chen and John Ladan. See also The Icicle Atlas, an open source data project.

This talk is part of the Fluid Mechanics (DAMTP) series.

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