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Mystery Solved

Tea time

How kettles whistle

12:15pm, December 31, 2013

WET WHISTLE  Studying a whistling tea kettle could help engineers design quieter household plumbing and industrial pipelines. 

Leave it to the English to solve the mystery of a tea kettle’s whistle.

English physicist Lord Rayleigh proposed in 1877 that water molecules bouncing back and forth in the spout produce the whistle, but new experiments show that little swirls of steam are responsible.

University of Cambridge engineers mimicked a tea kettle in the laboratory using tubing and a series of pressure sensors and microphones. The researchers found a two-step process; steam lazily rising from water that is just starting to boil vibrates within the spout to produce a faint tone, much the way a bottle neck hums when you blow across its mouth.

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