“It Looked Like Snot”

By on September 29, 2004

There’s been a long standing debate among physicists as to whether a human would be able to swim faster or slower in a more viscous substance. So if we filled a pool with syrup, would I go faster, because each stroke gets more traction, or slower, due to the increased drag? And how long would I have to shower before I stopped smelling like pancakes?

Edward Cussler, a professor at the University of Minnesota, and one of his students, Brian Gettelfinger (a competitive swimmer) decided to settle the debate.

Cussler and Gettelfinger took more than 300 kilograms of guar gum, an edible thickening agent found in salad dressings, ice cream and shampoo, and dumped it into a 25-metre swimming pool, creating a gloopy liquid twice as thick as water.


The most troublesome part of the experiment was getting permission to do it in the first place. Cussler and Gettelfinger had to obtain 22 separate kinds of approval, including persuading the local authorities that it was okay to put their syrup down the drain afterwards.

I always love experiments that involve filling an entire pool with something. I don’t know why.

Via Kottke, who is, incidentally, awesome.