Monday, April 9, 2012

Catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world

Scientists at the Australian National University have been studying waves. Specifically they are interested in rogue waves. These are sudden large waves that appear in an otherwise calm sea. This is not the same thing as a tsunami, which is triggered by an underwater earthquake. Instead these are sudden freak occurrences, and for a time they were thought of as sailors' tall tales, but they have been clearly documented. There are a variety of proposed causes, but these researchers, among others, think that it is a nonlinear effect where an unstable wave can develop against background vibrations, and this wave can pull energy from other smaller waves - so these other waves flatten out, and this freak wave suddenly grows to great height. This is a variation on Peregrine soliton, a wavefunction solution that has found some application in fiber optics. Anyway, why on this blog? Because the Australian researchers had a bit of fun with their study and had a LEGO pirate on a boat in the wave tank where they were studying these rogue waves. Watch the video to see if the minifig goes down with the ship. (Okay, it's actually an imperial soldier, but all of the articles refer to him as a 'LEGO pirate'.)

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