Blog on Math Blogs

Mathematical Digest


Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"Swimming in Flatsea," by Greg Huber. Nature, 14 December 2000, pages777-778.
"Silk and soap settle a century-old flap," by P. Weiss. Science News,16 December 2000.

These two articles describe research reported in the 14 December 2000 issue ofNature. The research refutes the conventional explanation, put forth byLord Rayleigh more than a century ago, of why flags flap in the wind. Theresearchers devised a clever experiment with a one-dimensional "flag" (in theform of a silk thread), which they placed in a soap film "breeze". Contrary towhat Rayleigh's explanation would predict, the researchers found that the threadsometimes flapped and sometimes lay straight in the film. "While thisexperiment might seem odd at first, it actually bears on a host of difficult andunresolved theoretical issues in fluid dynamics," Huber writes. "And, likeother advances in fluid dynamics, progress in this area is likely to findapplication in a wide variety of different disciplines."

--- Allyn Jackson