Young Pakistani student shines internationally by photographing electric honeycomb phenomena
Muhammad Shaheer Niazi was the first Pakistani to have participated at International Young Physicists’ Tournament in 2016 but his research regarding the visualisation of electric honeycomb finally made it to the journal, despite the fact that the student is not an acclaimed scientist, currently.
Though honeycombs are formed by teeny weeny honey bees which stroll around gardens and accumulate the wax in their nests in perfect shape and balance but to actually condone how nature gets out of balance, we need to refer to electric honeycombs.
In simple terms, an electric honeycomb is formed when certain kinds of electrically charged particles travel between a pointy electrode and a flat one, but in the transmission, they bump into a puddle of oil along the way.
The resultant shape of this bumpy ride is a polygonal pattern, what some physicists also call the rose-window instability because it resembles the circular, stained-glass designs found in Gothic churches. It’s what happens as natural forces work to keep an electric charge moving in an interrupted circuit.
But why is it so intriguing that a bizarre shape pops up? The mystery behind the pattern is that natural forces work to keep an electric charge moving in an interrupted circuit.
The electric honeycomb might sound like something for aesthetic pleasure only but deep down it also explains how electricity flows through fluids that engineers can harness to develop technology for printing, heating or biomedicine.
Nonetheless, the phenomenon is a harbinger of the fact that every single particle in this infinite universe joins humans in a bid to attain stability.
The answer to how honeycombs are made is simple, yet a bit technical and lies in the fact that electricity travels from the top electrode, through the insulator, to the bottom, or ground electrode.
An electric honeycomb behaves like a capacitor. In this case, the top electrode is a needle that delivers high voltage to the air just a few centimetres above a thin layer of oil on the other flat, grounded surface electrode.
The insufficient conduction of oil creates a corona discharge effect as the ions want to hit their ground electrode but are obstructed mid-way.
Within milliseconds, dozens of hexagonal shapes form in the layer that help maintain the equilibrium nature demands. The polygons keep the amount of energy flowing into and out of the system equal, and balance two forces — gravity, which keeps the oil’s surface horizontal, and the electric field pushing down on top of it.
Shaheer Niazi's Hallmark Achievement
The scientists were aware of the phenomena decades ago, but Niazi was smart enough to show the moving ions by capturing images of the shadows formed by their wind as they exited the needle and recorded the heat presumed to come from the friction of their travel through the oil.
Heat appeared to originate at the needle, and dissipate outward, increasing with time — even five minutes after the honeycomb formed.
Alberto T. Pérez Izquierdo, a physicist at the University of Seville in Spain lauded the Pakistani student for being able to minutely monitor the process and exploring temperature changes on the oil’s surface.
“I think it’s outstanding for so young a scientist to reproduce these results,” Dr. Pérez Izquierdo said.
But Niazi hopes to ascend more in his quest to solve the puzzle of honeycomb dreams of earning a Nobel Prize.
"In nature — and in the electric honeycomb — nothing wants to do excess work but he’s getting started early anyway" Niazi quips.
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