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“It is seldom that you see a new stable structure appearing spontaneously in a completely symmetric environment,” explains Tomas Bohr, a physicist at the Technical University of Denmark. “Usually you have to do something to break the symmetry. But we’re not doing anything to break the symmetry. The system does it all by itself.”
The unusual phenomenon in question involves rotating a bottom plate under a liquid in a circular (cylindrical) container. Bohr and his team of students at the Technical University and at the Niels Bohr Institute set up an experiment to find out whether or not such conditions would lead to stable deformations of a water surface into polygon shapes. The findings from their experiment were published May 3rd in Physical Review Letters.
Bohr tells PhysOrg.com that a somewhat similar experiment took place eight years ago with a different team (including Clive Ellegaard and others). “We had fluid falling on a plane, like water from a faucet. We found that even if the rim of the plate is completely circular, the fluid surface can be shaped like a polygon.”
While the first polygon experiment Bohr did involved stationary polygons, the most recent effort shows rotating polygons. “Not only are these shapes rotating,” says Bohr, “but they are rotating at a different speed than the plate beneath them.”