NCBI ROFL: Walking with coffee: Why does it spill?

By ncbi rofl | May 17, 2012 7:00 pm

“In our busy lives, almost all of us have to walk with a cup of coffee. While often we spill the drink, this familiar phenomenon has never been explored systematically. Here we report on the results of an experimental study of the conditions under which coffee spills for various walking speeds and initial liquid levels in the cup.These observations are analyzed from the dynamical systems and fluid mechanics viewpoints as well as with the help of a model developed here. Particularities of the common cup sizes, the coffee properties, and the biomechanics of walking proved to be responsible for the spilling phenomenon. The studied problem represents an example of the interplay between the complex motion of a cup, due to the biomechanics of a walking individual, and the low-viscosity-liquid dynamics in it.”

Bonus figure from the main text:


Thanks to @seblumer for today’s ROFL!

Related content:
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  • jcm
  • Doug Alder

    Short of not having a good grip on it – it should only spill if you look at it – a fact that every waiter/waitress knows. The same principle holds for riding a bike/motorcycle at very slow speeds – look 20ft in front of you don’t look down.

  • Drsrisinger

    Try walking with coffee without. Looking af

    Try walking with coffee without looking at it. You will never spill a drop!

    Dr B

  • Abigail

    Get a KeepCup, great for perambulation with a coffee.

  • a

    well! I’ve had my share of spilling Coffee I must say
    not that it really matters all that much!

  • Georgina S-V

    I wonder if they did a follow-up study on spilling beer?

  • Resonanteye Marth

    I seem to spill it whether I look or not. Sometimes the only reason I look is because I’ve spilled it all the way up my arm.


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NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl


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