Monday, February 05, 2024

Feynman Reverse Sprinkler

"Mathematicians finally solved Feynman's 'reverse sprinkler' problem". (Via H.R.)

A typical lawn sprinkler features various nozzles arranged at angles on a rotating wheel; when water is pumped in, they release jets that cause the wheel to rotate. But what would happen if the water were sucked into the sprinkler instead? In which direction would the wheel turn then, or would it even turn at all? That's the essence of the "reverse sprinkler" problem that physicists like Richard Feynman, among others, have grappled with since the 1940s. Now, applied mathematicians at New York University think they've cracked the conundrum, per a recent paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters—and the answer challenges conventional wisdom on the matter...

One might intuit that a reverse sprinkler would work just like a regular sprinkler, merely played backward, so to speak. But the physics turns out to be more complicated. “The answer is perfectly clear at first sight,” Feynman wrote in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman (1985). “The trouble was, some guy would think it was perfectly clear [that the rotation would be] one way, and another guy would think it was perfectly clear the other way.”