How your snow globe is helping scientists understand water treatment
Watching those little particles float to the bottom is more than just a soothing exercise. It could also give us cleaner water.
Shake it, put it down, watch it settle.
That's about the extent of the things you can do with a snow globe. Sure, it's a fun, pretty piece of decor to display on your mantel, especially around the holidays. But it's not exactly the most useful of household objects.
Or is it?
A new study out of Tel Aviv University discovered something interesting about sedimentation, or settling, just by looking at a snow globe. Researchers found that asymmetrical objects, like the snowflake-looking particles that sink to the bottom of the globe, settle at different times and in different ways than symmetrical objects like spheres. That discovery could help engineers improve the processes used in water treatment facilities, making them more efficient and less costly.
The team, which includes researchers from TAU in Israel and the University of Chicago, demonstrated that the storminess of sedimentation – that is, the way objects flutter and move erratically through the liquid – happens only to symmetrical objects. If the floating objects are asymmetrical, they move with more uniformity and less chaos.
"Our research clarifies a common, complex phenomenon and offers ways of controlling it," said Professor Haim Diamant of Tel Aviv University's School of Chemistry, who led the study with Professor Thomas Witten of the University of Chicago and TAU doctoral student Tomer Goldfriend.
The next step for the team is looking at the properties of other types of materials, like geological deposits. "The basic question is whether the behavior that we have found is unique to the process of sedimentation or can be found in a much broader class of materials," Diamant said. "We think – we hope – that the latter is true."
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