Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Why thin, flat things rise and glide on the way down: Cornell physicists finally solve the falling-paper problem

20.10.2004


Exactly what governs the motions of falling paper?



While college students suspect the answer is known to lazy professors -- the ones who allegedly grade essays by throwing them down stairwells to see which sails the farthest -- the so-called falling paper problem has long intrigued scientists.

Now an enterprising professor and her graduate student at Cornell University have solved the falling paper problem -- in part by calculating the motions of a scientific journal page in flight -- and their report must have made the grade: The journal Physical Review Letters (Vol. 93, No. 14, "Falling Paper: Navier-Stokes Solutions, Model of Fluid Forces, and Center of Mass Elevation") article by Z. Jane Wang, associate professor of theoretical and applied mechanics, and Umberto Pesavento, a Ph.D. candidate in physics, explains it all.


The same falling-paper principles apply, the physicists believe, to naturally flat things like leaves. If they are right, Wang and Pensavento may have finally solved the mystery of why autumn leaves depart from a neighbor’s tree on a windless day . . .

. . . rise into the air . . . . . . rise again . . .

. . . glide along . . .

. . . and have to be raked from yards that don’t contain a single tree.


As Wang explains, "Leaves and paper fall and rise in a seeming chaotic manner. As they fall, air swirls up around their edges, which makes them flutter and tumble. Because the flow changes dramatically around the sharp edges of leaves and paper, known as flow singularity, it makes the prediction of the falling trajectory a challenge."

Among the first scientists to be intrigued by the behavior of falling paper was Scottish physicist James C. Maxwell, who pondered the tumbling motions of playing cards in 1853. But while Maxwell was a brilliant mathematician, he lacked the today’s computer-modeling techniques, not to mention access to fast, powerful computers. Wang and Pensavento put those advanced tools to good use to show why the falling trajectory of thin flat things -- and the behavior of airflow and other forces -- is not predicted by the classical aerodynamic theory.

"There were a few surprises," Wang notes. "We found the flat paper rises on its own as it falls, which would not happen if the force due to air is similar to that on an airfoil. Instead, the force depends strongly on the coupling between the rotating and translational motions of the object."

Wang and Pesavento also showed that the falling-paper effect is almost twice as effective for slowing an object’s descent, compared with the parachute effect (that is, if an object falls straight down). And that evidently benefits trees and other plants that need to disperse seeds some distance from the point of origin. Plants with flattened seedpods also take advantage of the falling-paper effect.

The research was funded by National Science Foundation, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Packard Foundation.

Says the professor who does not use the falling-paper effect to grade student essays and forecast their future: "What is predictable is that as the autumn leaves tumble down, they drift in particular directions, depending on the way they turn. This may explain, Wang adds, "why you are getting the leaves from your neighbor."

Roger Segelken | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cornell.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Only an atom thick: Physicists succeed in measuring mechanical properties of 2D monolayer materials
17.01.2018 | Universität des Saarlandes

nachricht Black hole spin cranks-up radio volume
15.01.2018 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

Im Focus: A thermometer for the oceans

Measurement of noble gases in Antarctic ice cores

The oceans are the largest global heat reservoir. As a result of man-made global warming, the temperature in the global climate system increases; around 90% of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Gran Chaco: Biodiversity at High Risk

17.01.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Only an atom thick: Physicists succeed in measuring mechanical properties of 2D monolayer materials

17.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Fraunhofer HHI receives AIS Technology Innovation Award 2018 for 3D Human Body Reconstruction

17.01.2018 | Awards Funding

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>