Science Determines How NOT To Spill Your Coffee!

Michael Harper for

There are several constants in life that, no matter what, will cause us pain and heartache. Death and taxes are the notable examples, along with the way toast will always fall buttered-side down. Another one of these troublesome areas in life is the way we will always, no matter what, spill some coffee when we grab it on-the-go or carry it to our tables. The common method used to avoid spillage is to walk quickly, as if getting to the table faster will shorten our opportunity to fail.

As it turns out, some researchers have decided to put some science behind these methods in order to find out just why we will always–and I mean always–spill our coffee.

A pair of researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) have investigated the physics behind a cup of coffee in motion to get a better look at why the liquid wants to leap out of the cup.

The scientists conducted their studies in a variety of vessels, from large to small, and found the source of the problem isn´t the cup or the viscosity of the liquid…it´s our gait.

The normal human gait just so happens to move at such a frequency that every step further multiplies the coffee´s wave-like back and forth motion. Changing your method or approach mid-travel to avoid such spillage could even make things worse, as it may disrupt the current flow and cause coffee chaos.

These physicists put in some due diligence, too, in what may have possibly been the tastiest research ever.

“The project was certainly fun. We just wanted to satisfy our curiosity and, given the results, to share what we learned with the scientific community through peer-reviewed literature,” said Rouslan Krechetnikov, mechanical engineer at the UCSB and author of the study, according to Ned Potter of ABC News.

By modeling both the fluid and walking dynamics and comparing these models with real-world experiments, the UCSB scientists have compiled a brief list of tips to keep the hot liquid away from your arms, shirt, wrists, table, etc.

• Don´t rush. You may think the coffee will spill less if you get it to the table more quickly, but the opposite is true. Slow down and the sloshing will too.

• Watch the cup, not the floor. You´ll spill less.

The researchers also discovered that taking off slowly and doing your best to subdue the amount of impact inflicted upon your cup (heavy steps, sudden movements, etc) will also keep more coffee in your cup rather than on the floor.

Have an unusually shaped cup? Krechetnikov suggests this might also help reduce coffee-spillage. Liquid-sloshing experiments have been used for decades to study the way fuel moves inside rockets and missiles, so as not to affect trajectory. Pulling from these studies, Krechetnikov says there are 3 possible spill-proof cup designs–“a flexible container to act as a sloshing absorber in suppressing liquid oscillations, a series of annular ring baffles arranged around the inner wall of the container to achieve sloshing suppression, or a different shape cup.”

Now, go forth, coffee drinkers, and impress your friends and family with your new walking methods and-or multi-baffled cup design! May I humbly suggest viewing this clip for suggestions on how NOT to walk with your coffee?