Friday, July 12, 2013

Christopher Charles Reardon / clockwise or counterclockwise

My name is Christopher Charles Reardon. I am a 43-Year-old undergraduate student at Boston University Metropolitan College. Coincidentally, today—July 13—is my 43rd birthday After successful completion of this course, I will be a mere 16 credits away from the attainment of my degree and could not be more excited to be so close to completing this achievement! I work full time as a substance abuse counselor at an addiction treatment facility in the Boston area and am truly passionate about my work. I am in school in order to obtain a degree so that I may support people in their substance use disorder recoveries by contributing to the addiction treatment field at a higher level.

I have chosen to take this course at the recommendation of my academic advisor Ellen Peterson. Furthermore, some students from last year’s class recommended this class to me. Since I am a social work/human services type of a guy, I am definitely not strong in science or math. My understanding of this course is that it will blend classroom and field activities in an engaging and relatable manner. Moreover, this class will fulfill my final science requirement.

I love the ocean and wish I had more time to be near it. I used to live in a tiny studio apartment on Provincetown Harbor and fondly recall being soothed to sleep at night by the sounds of the waves and clanging sailboat lines during the summer. I do not miss living in that town and am grateful for my improved lifestyle since leaving but I surely miss the ocean. There is something unnatural to me about spending an entire summer walking solely on concrete. However, my city experiences have brought me full-circle to a Boston University basement classroom where I had an opportunity to work with my peers tonight on an observation about what happens to water—specifically sink water—before it swirls down the drain.

Our task was to fill the sink with water and determine in which direction the water circles as it goes down the drain: clockwise or counterclockwise. As we waited for our turn, we watched the group in front of us and noticed the group’s disagreement about the direction of the water. The group was not unanimous. My three peers and I gathered around the sink and then discussed the task. Since the group before us seemed to have such a problem with their visual evaluation of the draining process, I suggested that we add a tiny piece of paper to the water as it drained. My theory was that the added contrast provided by the paper would make the current far easier to follow. As soon as the sink was roughly ¾ full of water, I gently released my hand. The water began to swirl in a noticeably counterclockwise direction. I then added a crumbled piece of paper towel (about the size of a pea) and noticed that the paper followed a decidedly counterclockwise direction. The entire group unanimously agreed that the water flowed in a counterclockwise direction.

There are various explanations regarding the direction that water drains throughout scientific literature. An article in Scientific American discusses several theories. For example, geologist Brad Hanson states that the Coriolis effect—an effect caused by the rotation of the Earth—causes water draining from drains to drain clockwise on the northern and counterclockwise on the southern hemisphere. Professor Fred W. Decker, however, states that the direction that the water drains has more to do with “an accidental twist given by the starting flow.” In other words, the direction of the flow could change each time depending on conditions at the time of the trial. Decker suggests further empirical trials. Physicist Robert Ehrlich also states in the article that the Coriolis effect is far less noticeable in a small area like a drain. He states, however, that if all external influences are removed such as currents, wind, and drain irregularities then “apparently” drains drain in different directions on different hemispheres. (Scientific American, 2001). Evidence of the minimal correlation between the direction that water drains out of a sink and the Coriolis effect may be found in the text Physics: A World View (Kirkpatrick & Francis, 2007). Again, this text indicates that although the Coriolis effect is real, such conditions cannot be replicated in a sink or a toilet unless perfect scientific conditions are present. Finally, in 1962, researcher Ascher Shapiro at MIT found that the effect of the Coriolis effect on water drainage is real, however, the effect is not strong enough to overcome external forces as in the aforementioned examples (Shapiro, 1962).

Tonight’s small group experiment, although earnest, lacked the basic tenants of the scientific method. For starters, we did not take any time to figure out what we were doing and second, we did not even repeat our experiment to see if the result was repeatable. Therefore, this experiment illustrates why so much junk science is out there. People in the public (including me) are easily swayed by quick demonstrations and are ill informed regarding the proper study of science.


Kirkpatrick, L. D., & Francis, G. D. (2007). Physics: A World View. Belmont, California, USA:   Thomson Wadsworth.
Scientific American. (2001, January 28). Can somebody finally settle this question: Does water flowing down a drain spin in different directions depending on which hemisphere you're in? And if so, why? Retrieved July 12, 2013, from Scientific American:
Shapiro, A. H. (1962). The Fluid Dynamics of Drag:. Garden City, New York, USA: Doubleday.

1 comment:

Bruce Berman said...

Chris - very nice work.