MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Time now for some life advice from our contributor, resident physicist Adam Frank. He says make friends with science and it will transform the ordinary, even the smallest of things, into the extraordinary. And Adam says children are already really good at this.
ADAM FRANK, BYLINE: Kids drive us crazy all the time. Sometimes it's the endless begging for that box of sugar bomb cereal that we never, ever buy them. But sometimes it's the way they get fixated for hours on the simplest things, like the way water splashes in a sink. When that's the case, it's important for us to remember fixation is in their job description. They are, after all, new arrivals on this planet.
They're here to explore, to discover and in essence, to be scientists. So the next time you find your kid in the bathroom flushing the toilet for the 22 time, don't get frustrated. Just stop, just notice, just see what they are seeing and then with your adult eyes know that both of you are looking through a window to the entire universe.
You see, the most important characteristic of a fluid, like air or water, is its ability to flow. That's what kids get hooked on. But in that mesmerizing choreography of matter and motion, fluids hold an amazing secret. From the grace of spiral galaxies to the smoke curling away from a stick in incense, the field scientists call fluid dynamics shows us something truly remarkable.
The wide skies of cosmic space and the familiar earth, they're the same, united together under the same set of laws. Don't believe me? Well, let's get back to that toilet. Push the handle down on that most ignominious of household accoutrements and the universal laws of fluid dynamics kick in. The swirling pattern of water in the toilet is an example of what physicists call vortical motion.
A vortex occurs anytime a fluid is forced to flow in circles, like in your toilet, but 10 million light years out in space, you can see the same general principles at work in the beautiful arcs of a spiral galaxy. Now, it takes the water in your toilet about a fraction of a second to complete one rotation, but the gas in the disc of a galaxy makes the same trip in about 200 million years.
In spite of that amazing difference, the physics is, in general, the same. Now, here's the kicker. The laws of fluid dynamics, like so much of the world's behavior can be fully and completely embraced in just a few mathematically expressed laws. I know most folks don't speak math, but I have to tell you. The three elegant equations of fluid dynamics, they're a thing of beauty. They're like calligraphy or the lines of purist poetry.
And what gives them their power is that all the behavior of all fluids everywhere and every when are already there, already hidden in those hieroglyphic symbols. From the first moments after the Big Bang to the clouds rolling across the sky to you and your kids staring down into that toilet, it's all the same. So if you really want to find your inner child and know the secrets to the cosmos, at the same time, the next step is really simple. All you have to do is flush.
BLOCK: Adam Frank, he teaches physics at the University of Rochester and blogs at NPR.org.
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