the physics of whisky

A photographer teamed up with scientists to figure out the fluid dynamics behind patterns left in whisky glasses

Plenty of souls have searched for answers at the bottom of a glass of whisky. For Phoenix-based artist and photographer Ernie Button, that quest revealed some unexpected beauty, and set him out on a search for truth.

Over the last few years, Button has been capturing stunning images, like the ones seen above, of the dried patterns that whisky leaves at the bottom of a glass. Recently he teamed up with Howard Stone, an engineer at Princeton University, whose lab found that some basic fluid dynamics drive whisky’s unique pattern formation. They presented their findings today at a meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) in San Francisco, California.

Button’s fascination with whisky began when he married into his wife’s Scotch-drinking family. While doing the dishes at home, he noticed that lacy lines covered the bottom of a glass of single-malt scotch. Other glasses appeared to produce various patterns of dried sediment. “It’s a little like snowflakes, in that every time the Scotch dries, the glass yields different patterns and results,” says Button. He thought that trying to capture the patterns might make for an interesting photography project.

Creating the images required a bit of Macgyvering. On their own, the grayish sediment lines are a bit underwhelming compared to the amber liquid that creates them, so Button had to experiment with different glasses and lighting systems. Using flashlights and desk lamps, Button highlights the patterns with different hues. “It creates the illusion of landscape, terrestrial or extraterrestrial,” says Button. To him, many of the images appear celestial, perhaps something that a satellite camera might snap high above Earth. Other images could easily be frigid polar vistas or petri dishes of bacterial colonies.

Read the rest of the article …{via Smithsonian, article by Helen Thompson, image by Ernie Button}

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