Arlington Johnson

The internet just lost its mind over this teen flipping a water bottle like a pro

Here comes the science.

BEC CREW
28 MAY 2016
 

If the "Damn, Daniel" meme taught us anything, it's that 2016 is the year of things that have no business going viral, going viral. The most recent example is Senior Talent Show Water Bottle Flip, in which Michael Senatore, a senior at Ardrey Kell High School in North Carolina, flips a third-full water bottle through the air to achieve a perfect, upright landing on the table in front of him.

The crowd goes wild for Senatore, who remains stoic amidst the uproar, and millions have since watched the feat on YouTube, because, as one commenter marvels, "Never before have I beheld such beauty, such... such majesty!"

 

Don't get us wrong, Senatore is the hero the internet deserves, with the dexterity of a magician and the steely-eyed determination of an Olympian, but come on, it's just a dude flipping a water bottle, we can all stop throwing our proverbial bras at him now.

The good news is, regardless of whether your response to those wildly popular 30 seconds was, "I have seen God, and his name is That Water Bottle Kid," or "Wait, that's it?", you've still got some awesome physics ahead of you, so let's give it up for science, which has one again come to save the day.

While the flip might look incredibly simple, given it takes a split second to complete, the physics behind why it works so well is actually pretty complex. 

"This is not your average undergraduate physics problem," Nathaniel Stern, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University, told Josh Rosenblat and Javier Zarracina at Vox. "It's much more complicated."

First off, the basics: Senatore uses a classic, hourglass-shaped bottle - his brand of choice is a 500-ml (16.9-ounce) Deer Park bottle - and it's filled to the one-third mark with water.

 

He starts off by holding the bottle at the cap, which means the weight of the water and the bottle's centre of gravity are located at the bottom.

When he flips the bottle in the air, instead of rotating with it, the water splashes up and down along one of the sides, never quite making it up and around in a full rotation. This is caused by a phenomenon known as angular momentum, which applies to any object moving around a point - such as our Earth orbiting the Sun.

Depending on certain factors such as speed, mass, and the centre of gravity, a rotating object's inertia and velocity will be affected. This is where filling the bottle to one-third comes into play - the weight of the water is more than that of the bottle, which means the water can overcome the angular momentum and resist being pulled into the bottle's overhead spin.

Stern says this one-third amount is the "sweet spot" when it comes to ensuring that the water overcomes the angular momentum of the bottle.

Rosenblat and Zarracina explain:

"If there is too much water, spinning the bottle will be like spinning any solid object, because there is no room for the water to move around. Too little water means there will not be enough mass to slow down the angular momentum and make the bottle land consistently.

Spinning the bottle just a third full allows it to spin easier and allows the water to adjust easier to the angular momentum because it can move around."

When the bottle has rotated enough so that its top is facing the sky once more, the water plops back down to the base, and anchors the whole thing in a steady, upright landing. 

Senatore makes it look easy, but it's a tough thing to get right, which you'll no doubt experience if you try this at home. Senatore says he's been practicing it regularly for months leading up to the talent show that would make him internet-famous. 

"I actually had the idea for about the whole year - I’m going to flip the bottle at the talent show," he told Jonathan Jones at the Charlotte Observer. "I want to be in the talent show and it’s the one thing I can do."

And just so you know, if you can master the water bottle flip, there might be some pretty decent cash in it for you, with Senatore's bottle hitting over US$6,000 on eBay

If you do happen to get internet-famous from it, just remember to stay humble in the face of such adoration, as our new patron saint of fluid dynamics has exemplified with his statement to the Observer: "All I wanted to do was flip a bottle."

[Applause intensifies]

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