The Loh Down On Science

Swimming in Goo

Minnesota scientists study whether swimmers move faster in water or glop -- with surprising results.

Ever wondered how it would feel to swim through a pool of ranch dressing? Neither did I.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

and on the mechanics of goo.

Two scientists at the University of Minnesota were arguing about, well, swimming in gloppy liquids. Would the extra drag slow swimmers down? Or would thicker liquids speed swimmers up, providing more stuff to push their hands against?

To find out, Midwestern swimmers with a flair for adventure raced through a pool of syrup twice as thick as water.

They also sprinted through a pool of ordinary water for comparison.

Results? Wait for it--

No difference. The athletes' top speeds were the same in both liquids.

Why? Well, human swimmers are so incredibly UN-streamlined a liquid would have to be one thousand times as viscous as water to change how fast we plow through. Think honey.

But we CAN swim faster in plain water with salt in it. It makes our bodies float higher and drag less.

Not that swimming through syrup wasn't fun. In Minnesota? Ya sure you betcha!


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