Faculty Publications

Title

The calming effect of oil on water

Document Type

Article

Journal/Book/Conference Title

American Journal of Physics

Volume

75

Issue

5

First Page

407

Last Page

414

Abstract

The calming effect of oil on water has been known since ancient times. Benjamin Franklin was the first to investigate the effect, but the underlying mechanism for this striking phenomenon remains elusive. We used a miniature laser interferometer to measure the amplitude of surface waves to a resolution of ±5 nm, making it possible to determine the effect of an oil monolayer on the attenuation of capillary waves and the surface dilational modulus of the monolayer, We present attenuation data on pure water, water covered by olive oil, water covered by a fatty acid, and a water-acetone mixture for comparison. From the attenuation data at frequencies between 251 and 551 Hz, we conclude that the calming effect of oil on surface waves is principally due to the dissipation of wave energy caused by the Gibbs surface elasticity of the monolayer, with only a secondary contribution from the reduction in surface tension. Our data also indicate that the surface-dilational viscosity of the oil monolayer is negligible and plays an insignificant role in calming the waves. © 2007 American Association of Physics Teachers.

Original Publication Date

5-1-2007

DOI of published version

10.1119/1.2710482

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