The way of Buoyancy (… just happens to begin with ‘B’)

“As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” – Eddy Poe

I am decidedly not a rapper, but if I was, I would be a chubby white guy who raps in Korean (to camouflage my lame lyrics), and my rapper name would be Sci.

“Heeeeeeey, genetically desirable fe-male!”

Not that I’m actually a scientist, likewise, I doubt the Korean rapper, Psy, is a psycho for realz–he seems like a truly decent little teddy bear of a guy– and then he pulled out a machete! It was horrible! but more because I’m one of those know-it-alls who, like, knows things and stuff.

That guy on the in’ertubes wrote it; it must be true!

Last month, I created a new category on this blog, called “Pseudo-Sci”, for an entry I wrote having to do with entropy and cob webs … do you begin to see the reasoning behind the name..? Pseudo-Sci should not be confused with Sci-Fi. Sci-Fi is total, made up bullshit, hopefully based on real science. Pseudo-Sci is more like what I understand the real science behind a given topic to be (which could conceivably be utter horseshit, but that doesn’t smell as bad as bullshit).

Yeaaaah, Buoyeeee!

Today, I’ve decided to prattle on about the phenomenon known as buoyancy (boy anne see – it has nothing to do with transvestites). Buoyancy is the tendency of a substance of lesser density to rise, when enveloped by a fluid of greater density.
I s’pose I’ll take a moment and explain that a fluid is not necessarily a liquid. Liquid is one of the three recognized states of matter. You have all three states inside you! Your blood is a liquid, your bones are solid, and… well, let’s skip the gas, shall we?

A fluid, on the other hand, is any collection of loosely bound molecules, with properties of both liquids and gasses… You can actually think of the collective employees of a company as a fluid. They are all loosely bound together by the promise of a paycheck; take that away, and watch them boil off again with the entropy… probably more like spontaneous combustion…

So, if we miraculously get a business loan (hahahahaha), we can once again issue paychecks, and our employees will re-condense into a fluid. Out in the parking lot, they aggregate and ooze around, with no apparent form, but put them in a container–an office building–and their mass takes on the shape of their container, as fluids will do.

Where this analogy appears to fail is that, in the corporate world, those who are most dense tend to rise to the top, which is in direct conflict with our observations of the natural world… until we take hot air into account.

Image courtesy of Dan @

If you were to take several hundred yards of silk, you’d end up in jail. That shit is ex-pen-sive!

Let’s try again… some lunatic Chinese guy gives you several hundred yards of silk… it could happen! The thing is, you don’t have a truck, and the lunatic is telling you to take it or leave it, right now. So you grab a handful of silk and start walking, thinking you will drag it home. After a few steps, you realize the silk isn’t just one large sheet; it has actually been sewn into the shape of a huge cloth light bulb! At the base of the light bulb, you find a crude frame that forms an opening into the bulb. Holy crap! That crazy Chinese guy just gave you a pure silk hot air balloon! Lucky bastard! … And it’s blue. That’s my favorite color. I hate you!

You look along the walls of the warehouse and, sure enough, there’s a whole propane thingy setup, which you drag over to the balloon, light up the propane, and begin to fire hot air into the frame that holds the base of the balloon open. As the hot air fills more and more of the silk envelope, the mass of cloth, that was once too heavy for you to drag five frickin’ feet, begins to rise into the air all on its own! Damn, you must be a real wimp!
Alright, you’re not really a wimp… maybe…

What has actually happened is that you have created a low density fluid, and put it in a container surrounded by a higher density fluid. In fact, you have lowered the density of the fluid inside the container so much, there’s enough buoyancy for it to lift several hundred pounds of silk container (the balloon) as well.

Image courtesy of GoldSaint @

What? Why are you giving me that “You fugly bug” look?
Aaaah, right… if the fluid on the outside is air, and the fluid on the inside is air, how can there possibly be such a huge difference in their density and weight? Magic. That’s right; alien Druid Yetties have cast a spell upon the – OK, that’s bullshit… see? It smells much worse than horseshit…

No, what has happened is that you have used one of the properties of gasses, which you may, or may not remember are fluids, to lower the density of only the gas inside the container. The property you used… well, you used it, so I don’t need to bore you by explaining that gasses expand when heated.

Actually, we can use the “crowd of people as gas” analogy here too. Do a little experiment –

If You Do This, You Will Get Arrested!

If You Do This, You Will Get Arrested!

Get a bunch of your friends together and go to a local bar. See if you can get the room really, really full, then once everyone’s settled in and having a good time, take a look around. Really take it in… this is a container of fluid in its steady state. Given no outside intervention, the “gas molecules” fill the available space, bump and shuffle around a bit, but do not change substantially.

Now because you’re a complete asshole, spill some straight up, top-shelf vodka on a table in the middle of the room and light it on fire.

What do you observe (given that no one has beaten you senseless)?

When you apply heat, in the form of fire, to the “container of gas”, the molecules begin to move about quickly and randomly, often bouncing off of each other violently… and they most definitely move away from the heat. The ones near the fire push most vigorously against the ones out near the edge, transmitting their energy in the process. Now even the people/molecules by the walls are very agitated and causing pressure against the walls. The gas is expanding. Finally, the pressure relief valve is released, and people go flying out the door! You, huddled quietly in a corner, can look up now and observe how the gas molecules inside the container are fewer and fewer. Unfortunately, the container (the bar) is still too heavy to gain much buoyancy from the denser mass of people now outside. Now, if the bar was made of silk…

Like A Boss!

OK, now let’s say that instead of hundreds of yards of silk, there’s a silk suit, and it’s full of hot air. Might it not tend to rise within the box containing the dense corporate fluid?

You are the sails beneath my wings… or something…

I think it’s important to point out that buoyancy is not the same as aerodynamic lift. Sure, you may not think it’s all that important right now, but believe me, anything that keeps you from going out and lighting a fire under an airplane’s wing needs serious consideration.


The above illustration shows how having the right curves can also help you rise to the top…

That secret office crush may not be a stalker

One last thing about buoyancy and low density, as they relate to the workplace…

crushed cups_Tony Cenicola_NYTimes
Image courtesy of Tony Cenicola @ NY Times

The Styrofoam cups in the image above all started out the same size as the one at far right. The two with the markings all over them were part of some oceanographic research. The one with red on it was put in a basket and taken to a depth of, something like, 1,000 feet under water. The one with blue went to, roughly, 2,000 feet. If you’ve been paying attention to this blog you’ll know, from not being stupid enough to do the pool experiment, that water at only a few feet is pretty dense, and will work very hard to expel things of lesser density, like human lungs. But if the container of the less dense matter is not allowed to rise, eventually the container collapses, and all the buoyancy is squeezed out, leaving only a wrinkled shell

You may be the lightest, cheeriest person in your whole company, and your personality may buoy up those around you, but let them cage you long enough, and you will be crushed.

Isn’t science fun?



About wned2012

Creative thinker & lover of laughter.
This entry was posted in Pseudo-Sci, The A to Z Challenge - Not, Things and Stuff. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The way of Buoyancy (… just happens to begin with ‘B’)

  1. Pingback: The awesomeness of Zeppelins | NedSpeak

  2. Pingback: My understanding of starting a new blog | BSB (the basic science blog)

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