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Imagine That! -- "Stalactites"

Imagine That!
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Imagine That! -- "Stalactites"

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

Does the concept of using a universal math theory to explain natural phenomena seem straight out of the Da Vinci code?

Imagine That!

It doesn't to researchers at the University of Arizona. Raymond Goldstein and his colleagues recently wondered why stalactites, those formations that hang from the roof of caves, all have the same tubular shape. So they developed a mathematical equation to understand their fluid dynamics and were able to determine why all stalactites, whether large or small, look, essentially, carrot-like. After plugging the equation into a computer, turned out the shapes grown by the program were exact replicas of actual stalactites. The computer-generated model was then tested against the real thing, and the difference was less than 5 percent.

Goldstein says this research will help park personnel with their mission to preserve, understand, and educate us about caves. The stalactites also provide a better understanding of how nature uses precipitation to form patterns.

Goldstein: "They are so old that they lock inside of them a lot of information about the past climatic variations over the course of hundreds of thousands of years."

Now that they've solved the mystery of stalactites, Goldstein's group may be turning their attention to icicles. So chill out! More info is soon to come. I'm Eric Phillips.

"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at

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