I am waiting in the school yard at pick-up time. My daughter runs out with her class. Her face is splattered with mud. “I’ve been playing with mud!” – she states the obvious. Her teacher praises her adventurous spirit, and I nod my approval too – the only correct reaction at that point.
Then, the teacher says to me: “I’d like to talk to you for a minute.” Nothing makes you feel on the spot like a teacher calling you out, even though there is no homework question to answer (I am pretty sure), and she is not even your teacher.
It turns out, I am being invited to give a guest presentation to the first-graders about something based on my work/expertise and at the same time related to their science lessons. My research area is fluid mechanics, and they have been learning about craters on the Moon… I look at my daughter’s mud-splattered face and decide that I will show the kids how the craters are formed. They are like frozen splashes.
Looking at splashes caused by droplets falling into liquid pools has been a pet project in our lab over the past couple of years. It is a bit unusual (perhaps unfortunately so) for my research to be motivated by shear curiosity. As many colleagues in engineering, I suppose, I am generally more opportunistic when choosing the topics – chasing grant funding or cool industrial applications. In this case though, we initially simply wanted to take cool photos of splashes, but in the process an artistic objective got replaced by a scientific one.
Still, this request to make a presentation for the kids is the most valuable outcome of the “droplets” project to date, at least for me personally. Paraphrasing Bart Simpson, finally there is a practical application of fluid mechanics!