Iridescent Hot Water Colors

posted by Jason Kottke Jul 20, 2023

After my post about Soap Bubble Worlds yesterday, several people sent me this video of the rainbow colors that can be seen on the surface of and in the steam above a swirling cup of hot water. I was expecting a straight-forward visual display accompanied by some relaxing music (and that version does exist) but it also includes a fascinating explanation of where all these colors and swirls come from.

Scientific investigations into beautiful phenomena always makes me think of physicist Richard Feynman's thoughts on beauty:

I have a friend who is an artist, and has sometimes taken a view which I don't agree with very well. He'll hold up a flower and say "Look how beautiful it is" and I'll agree. And he says, "you see, as an artist I can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing." And I think that he's kind of nutty.

First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people, and to me too, I believe - although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is, but I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions, which also have a beauty. I mean, it's not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter, there's also beauty at smaller dimensions. The inner structure, also the processes, the fact that the colors and the flower are evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting. It means that insects can see the color.

It adds a question: Is this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms that... why is it aesthetic... all kinds of interesting questions which the science, knowledge, only adds to the excitement, and mystery, and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts.

(thx, everyone)