Chemists explain why it’s so hard to lift a wet glass from a table.

By Seriously Science | August 6, 2013 1:05 pm

Photo: flickr/bradleygee

Ever try to lift your wet glass off the coffee table, only to end up just sliding it around because it seems suctioned down? In this study, three physical chemists did some extensive molecular modeling to explain this phenomenon, including asking whether alcohol has a stronger or weaker “seal” than water.  Turns out that the surface tension caused by molecular interactions between the water and/or alcohol molecules requires a certain amount of force to break up, and less force is required for alcohol than for water. This has important implications, according to the authors: “This work was done in compliance with ethical guidelines for basic research. Nevertheless, the results may have severe social implications. We note that the energy required for lifting a glass from a wet table is lowest for hard liquor (over 40% alcohol, Figure 10). Hence, intoxicated persons may be tempted to drink, e.g., whiskey rather than water as it requires only half the effort to pick up the glass. The impact of this finding on alcohol consumption patterns falls beyond the scope of this work, however.”

Lifting a wet glass from a table: a microscopic picture.

“Why is it so hard to lift a wet glass from a table? Is it easier when there is whiskey between the glass and the table? Macroscopically, the picture is quite simple: two surfaces have to be disrupted that are connected indirectly through hydrogen bonds and/or van der Waals forces. In the beginning, a surface has to be created leading to surface tension, and after that a liquid bridge has to be broken. Here we study the phenomenon at the microscopic level using molecular dynamics simulations. The effective force between two quartz plates is measured at different distances and with different alcohol/water mixtures between them. This allows us to compute the total work necessary to “lift the glass from the table”. Different aspects of the process, such as clustering and liquid ordering are discussed. We compare the structure of the liquid/glass interface to that of a liquid/vapor interface, for which we present simulation results, like surface tension, as well. On the basis of the simulations, we are able to provide a detailed description of the energetics during the separation process as a function of alcohol concentration. It is shown that there is a net entropy loss upon separating two plates with water or a 10% MeOH solution between them, whereas for higher alcohol concentrations, there is net entropy gain. These findings increase our understanding of the properties of colloid suspensions which is important for process technology.”

Bonus figure from the main text:

A molecular model of the glass and table (both red) and a water/alcohol mixture (green) during the process of lifting a wet glass from a table.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: ethanol
  • zbecktx

    The “drinker’s choice” is sort of a false choice because the water on the glass is usually there due to condensation, not from being spilled. Unless the whiskey drinker has spilled it there. In which case, they probably need to switch to water anyway.

  • Hisham ElDai

    Very poor reasoning trying to associate the tendency to drink more with the ease of lifting the glass. Condensation on the outside and at the bottom of the glass is actually water vapor that is hotter than the glass it surrounds.

    The authors have artificially introduced whiskey in between the glass and the surface it rests on. The conclusion that this leads someone to drink more is appaling and seems arbitrary.

  • Georg

    This is not really ridiculous.

    Some (presumably biologists, not chemists!) get a simulation software and start to “solve” a problem that does not exist.

    All the mechanics for the “problem” is well known since more than hunded years, this is (was?) basic stuff in textbooks.

    The “microscopic” simulation is wrong, totally wrong.

    The temporary adherence of a glass on a table is by surface tension, especially the meniscus developed when one tries to lift the glass plus the acceleration/viscosity of the liquid film between the surfaces.

    The picture with rupture in the liquid is nonsense.
    Is that journal peer rewieved? Uppsala was a first grade university
    some time ago.

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