Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Buoyancy Effect

I went swimming in Mumbai the other day and the first thing I noticed after I got down into the pool was that I sank to the bottom of the pool like a rock. And I thought to myself – “Wow, the buoyancy of water in Mumbai seems to be way lower than that in Singapore”.

I was enthralled, captivated and (pardon me for saying this!) proud of myself. I thought of myself as the modern day Archimedes (but in swimming trunks). As I started my arduous journey towards the other end of the pool, I was exploring scientific reasons for this difference in my mind. Theories included – the latitudinal difference between Mumbai and Singapore (close to 18 degrees), the difference in composition of water (the pool seemed to have a lot of Chlorine) etc. I had some whacky ideas about time difference, population, atmospheric pressure also.

As I got off the pool to go home, I was thinking to myself – “today is gonna be a long night researching about buoyancy on the internet” – fundamental physics that I have long forgotten about. The fun part about reading physics at my age is – I start with one topic and then I realize to read this I need to know another topic before and so on and so forth. I like this particular set of comics by Abstruse Goose to really get an idea of my ordeal (Click on the image to follow the comic).

Click me

Anyway, the pool dressing room has a magical device called “weighing scale”. It estimates the force that you exert on the surface of the earth. After I was done dressing up, I casually stepped on it. To my bewilderment, I had gained a whopping 3kg in 3 weeks. All illusions about buoyancy, specific gravity and physics vanished in thin air. All that I had discovered was – “Denser objects sink faster”.

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