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Basic physics to the inverse sprinkler

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Abstract

The inverse sprinkler problem is theoretically analysed using the Principle of Conservation of Momentum. The leg

section of the inverse sprinkler is firstly simply modeled. Then, the Principle of Conservation of Momentum is

applied throughout the motion sequence of a molecule entering and moving within leg section of the model. Two

possibilities are found to occur in the inverse sprinkler. The inverse sprinkler is theoretically shown to either spin

slowly towards incoming fluid or just jerk and vibrate without any apparent spinning, depending on the type of

collisions within the leg section.

2

The inverse sprinkler problem was made famous by Feynman who nevertheless failed to give an explanation

regarding its mechanism [1]. Since then, physicists have presented many arguments that are conflicting on the

subject. The inverse sprinkler problem is actually an old problem. As early as 1883, Mach states that the inverse

sprinkler does not rotate because it sucks the air from all sides unlike in the normal sprinkler where water jets out,

resulting in reaction force [2]. Recently, Jenkins explains that dissipative effects results in a small torque that would

cause the inverse sprinkler leg to accelerate towards the incoming water [3, 4]. Various experiments of the inverse

sprinkler have been also constructed and conducted. Some studies found that their inverse sprinkler shows no signs

of motion while the others report of inverse sprinklers that spin slowly towards incoming fluid [5, 6, 7].

Nevertheless, the experiments that show no signs of motion could suffer from too much friction for the inverse

sprinkler effect to be observed

This study will try to provide a simple theoretical explanation on the inverse sprinkler problem through basic

Newtonian mechanics, notably the Principle of Conservation of Momentum. This study aims to provide a clear and

simple explanation that will simplify the inverse sprinkler problem for the ever continuing search for its solution.

The first step taken in this study is to simplify the inverse sprinkler system. The inverse sprinkler is simplified here

into an L shaped tube with a pivot at the end (Fig. 1) as was done by Jenkins [3]. The pivot of the simplified

inverse sprinkler allows spinning motion. The pivot is hollow, by which vacuum is applied so that surrounding fluid

will be sucked into the sprinkler (inverse of the normal sprinkler). The inverse sprinkler has an open and closed ends

leg section. The surrounding fluid initially enters by the open-end. The wall at the closed-end of the leg section is

described here as the back wall.

The simplified inverse sprinkler will only spin if there exist net tangential force acting on it at a time, t. This means

any velocity that acts along the leg section is responsible for any spinning of the inverse sprinkler. This study will

focus on the leg section of the inverse sprinkler. In order to facilitate the analyzing of the motions within the leg

section, the diameter of the leg section is set so that only one molecule from the outside surrounding fluid can move

through it. All forces imparted on the sprinkler head are analyzed in terms of the collisions due to individual

molecules. The inverse sprinkler is idealized in this study as the forces existing between the molecules in a liquid

and also frictions are ignored.

3

The sequence of a molecule moving through the length of the leg section can be depicted as in Fig. 2. The

momentums of the leg section throughout the sequence are denoted as PL1 and PL2 while for the single molecule are

PF1 and PF2. Any motion towards right is denoted as positive and to the left as negative as according to the

conventional x-axis..

The Frame A depicts the initial stage before the molecule is sucked into the leg section by vacuum applied at the

pivot. The velocity of the molecule and also the leg section are zero as they are considered at rest. So the total

momentum of this system is zero. According to the Principle of Conservation of Momentum, this total momentum

value of zero is to be maintained throughout the sequence.

In Frame B, the molecule is sucked into the leg section by the inverse sprinkler due to vacuum applied at the pivot.

It is accelerated inwards and along the leg section, and hence acquires a positive velocity. The momentums of the

molecule (PF1) and of the leg section (PL1) are analyzed using the Principle of Conservation of Momentum:

P P

L1

PF1

(1)

0 PL1 PF1

PL1 PF1

M L (VL1 ) M F (VF1 )

VL1 ( M F / M L )VF1

(2)

The mass of the leg section and its velocity in Frame B are denoted as ML and VL1, respectively. Meanwhile for the

molecule, they are MF and VF1, respectively. The velocity of the leg section is negative and towards the left because

it should be opposite of the velocity of molecule which is positive.

The Frame C shows the situation after the collision between the molecule and the back wall of the leg section. There

are three types of collisions that may happen. They are the completely inelastic collision, normal inelastic collision

and the perfectly elastic collision.

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Here, the completely inelastic collision is analyzed first. If this type of collision happens at Frame C, then the

velocities after collision of the leg section (VL2) and the molecule (VF2), should be the same because the molecule

attaches with the inner wall and moves together. The velocity is denoted here as V2 = VL2 = VF2. Thus using the

Principle of Conservation of Momentum, it is observed that

P P

L2

(3)

PF2

0 PL2 PF2

0 ( M L M F )V2

(4)

VL2 VF2 0

This implies that the system actually stops after the completely inelastic collision (if it occurs). The molecule is then

sucked and accelerated towards the pivot due to the continuous vacuum applied therein.

The incomplete inelastic collision is analyzed next. In this collisions, the molecule moves separately from the leg

section after collisions. Thus, by using the Principle of Conservation of Momentum as in E.3:

P P

L2

PF2

0 PL2 PF2

PL2 PF2

M LVL2 M FVF2

VL2 ( M F / M L )VF2

(5)

The velocity of the leg section must be opposite of the velocity of the molecule. Nevertheless due to the restriction

of the back wall of the inverse sprinkler, the molecule will not be able to move to the right (in positive x-axis

direction) while the leg section moves to the left. Hence the velocity of the molecule can only be negative and thus

the velocity of the leg section will be opposite and positive. The totally elastic collision will also produce the same

result as the incomplete inelastic collision.

After the collision, the molecule does not shoot out through the leg section but is sucked and accelerated towards the

pivot due to the continuous vacuum applied therein.

5

The flow of the molecules into the inverse sprinkler is continuous. If the collisions between the back wall of the leg

section and molecules are completely inelastic, then the velocity of the leg section will change from negative to 0

m/s and then back to negative, continuously. Therefore, at a certain velocity of the molecules being sucked in, the

inverse sprinkler will spin slowly towards incoming fluid.

If the collision between the back wall of the leg section and molecules is not completely inelastic or is totally elastic,

then the velocity of the leg section will change from negative to positive continuously. Therefore the inverse

sprinkler will exhibit jerking motion without any real spinning.

The theoretical results of this study should be further tested in laboratory for independent experimental validation.

The spinning of the inverse sprinkler is shown to depend on the type of collision at the back wall of the leg section.

Thus an experiment might be constructed where the condition of the back wall of the leg section is changed to

obtain various types of collisions and then observe the behavior of the inverse sprinkler.

Nevertheless the construction of a leg section with a diameter that only allows one molecule to move through will be

not an easy task. Meanwhile, a method of observing the jerking on an assembly due to individual molecular

collisions must be devised. This theoretical study on the inverse sprinkler further did not take into account the

viscosity of fluid or the frictions that may exist in the system. This study is clearly a gedanken experiment. It

requires some ingenuity for the theoretical results of this study to be tested in laboratory.

6

References

[1] Feynman RP, Leighton R (1997) Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character).

Reprint ed., W. W Norton & Company Inc, USA.

[2] Mach E (1919) The Science of Mechanics: A Critical and Historical Account of its Development. 4th ed., Open

Court, Chicago.

[3] Jenkins A (2004) An elementary treatment of the reverse sprinkler. American Journal of Physics 72 (10):1276

1282.

[4] Jenkins A (2011) Sprinkler head revisited: momentum, forces, and flows in Machian propulsion. European

Journal of Physics 32(5):12131226.

[5] Berg RE, Collier MR (1989) The Feynman inverse sprinkler problem: A demonstration and quantitative analysis.

American Journal of Physics 57(7):654-657.

[6] The University of Maryland Department of Physics (2011) D3-22: Inverse Sprinkler - Metal Model,

http://www.physics.umd.edu/lecdem/services/demos/demosd3/d3-22.html

[7] The Edgerton Center Corridor Lab: Feynman Sprinkler (2012)

http://web.mit.edu/Edgerton/www/FeynmanSprinkler.html

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