Think You Knew How Water Boils? Turns Out, You Don’t!

Think You Knew How Water Boils? Turns Out, You Don’t!

While boiling water is perhaps the simplest process known to humans, turns out that we don’t understand it completely. Some scientific gaps in the process of boiling water leaves room for boosting efficiency of nuclear power plants by 20%.A study published in the journal Physical Review Letters sheds light on the dynamics of heat transfer while boiling water.

Mattero Bucci, assistant professor of nuclear engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology talks about the limitations of heat transfer. He says that even a simple process like boiling water is but a complex phenomenon. Consequently, while talking about technological revolutions, such as energy, computers, or even nanoscale transistors, these constraints come into play.

Understanding the Concept of ‘Boiling Crisis’

In order to overcome these limitations, scientists studied ways to avoid a phenomenon termed ‘boiling crisis’.  It is a point at which a large amount of bubbles form on a hot surface. Due to this, these bubbles coalesce into a sheet of vapor, blocking any heat transfer.

This can further result into melting or weakening of surfaces, which is detrimental to industrial processes. This is a key reason why nuclear power plants operate at levels way below the boiling crisis points.

Researchers say that studying this phenomenon, and ways to prevent it will allow nuclear plants to operate at higher temperatures.

Inspiration from Traffic Jam Models

Bucci says that the way the bubbles settle on a hot surface is non-linear. Their actions or paths are comparable to traffic jams. Using both experiments and mathematical analysis, scientists will be able to predict the boiling crisis point. The texture of the surface is also taken into account. As a result, minimizing interaction between bubbles is possible by adjusting all these factors.

If realized, this research aims to increase the efficiency of a power plant nearly 20%. Considered on a global scale, this is a big number and allows better use of available fuel and other resources.

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