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Making Waves: Alumni Generate Mini Tsunami

By Stacey Kim on June 15, 2011 01:56 PM

Never underestimate the power of Reedies. At a Centennial Reunions class on Thursday, June 9, I learned firsthand that all we need to create a tidal wave in our very own sports center swimming pool is two dozen Reedies and a leader with an understanding of classical physics.

Okay, perhaps "tidal" is a bit of an exaggeration of the wave's size. But it's no overstatement to say that we managed to slosh water out of both ends of the pool by doing nothing more than hopping in and out of the shallow end at the direction of Brad Wright '61. Brad gave an explanation of the physics of wave-making before the experiment began (here is an extended version of the video above, complete with full scientific explanation). I confess that between the poor acoustics of the pool deck and the anticipation of jumping in the water, most of the science to passed me by. I can tell you that coordination of the physics of the event required someone to stand at the pool's edge swinging the so-called Pendulum of Destiny, a group of four rubber duckies with a golf balls attached to their bases floating in the middle of the pool, and our willingness to hop in when the wave was at its highest point only to hop back out each time it ebbed to its lowest.

When James Eckenwalder '71, commander of the Pendulum of Destiny, called the first "In!" we obediently plopped off the edge, up to at least our necks, even submerged. "Out!" called James, and we scrambled out as best we could. After about a dozen cycles, we were rewarded with the sound of water sloshing over the edge and the impressive sight of the rolling of the wave back and forth in the pool. Brad then invited us to swim out to the middle to experience the horizontal pull of the moving water; it felt exactly like being in the ocean, and the force was remarkably strong. Exhilarating!

Words can't do it justice, but the video gives a sense of what it was like to make such a powerful wave. Brad assures us that this experiment can be replicated at your home or community pool; contact him for details on the physics.

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