Cavitation: the party trick with engineering applications

Most people have seen cavitation in action, even if they don’t know it. The BYU Splash Lab, led by Dr. Tadd Truscott, recently published a paper about cavitation and its application as an underwater tool. The inspiration came from an unlikely source – a common party trick.

Someone grabs a glass bottle filled with liquid. They smack the top of the bottle, and the bottom of the bottle shatters and explodes apart. Interestingly, it is not the initial blow that breaks the bottle. The culprit is cavitation.

Cavitation involves the creation of vapor cavities (bubbles) in a liquid due to unequal pressure. When the bubbles collapse, they can cause damage to the container holding them. In the party trick example, the collapsing vapor cavities can cause enough damage to shatter the glass bottle. Cavitation can also cause problems on a much larger scale; propellers, hydrokinetic turbines, hydraulic pumps and other technologies are all negatively affected by cavitation.

The BYU Splash Lab used their signature high-speed filming to demonstrate, in slow motion, just how cavitation works. In May, Dr. Truscott and graduate student Jesse Daily were featured on Inside Science TV, where they explained their findings in more detail.

In the recently published paper, Dr. Truscott examines how the destructive power of cavitation could be harnessed and used as an underwater cutting tool. This force of nature, which normally causes problems for engineers, may someday become a beneficial element to underwater technologies.

Dr. Truscott’s paper was published in Experiments in Fluids and is available online.

Click here to watch highlights of the BYU Splash Lab’s research, including a demonstration of the bottle-smashing party trick in slow motion.

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