U researcher makes swimming a sticky situation

A study determined swimming in guar, which is twice as thick as water, takes the same amout of time as swimming in water.

Hayley Odom

Last summer, University professor Edward Cussler swam in a pool of a snot-colored, thick, sticky, syrupy substance for the sake of curiosity and science.

In a study, he determined that swimming in a pool concentrated with guar – a thickening agent used in consumer products which is twice as thick as water – takes the same amount of time as swimming in a pool of water. The margin of error was four seconds.

“The speed didn’t change, and that’s what you would expect,” he said.

His research will be published next month, he said.

A mix of 16 volunteer and recreational swimmers, some from the University’s men’s swim team, participated in the study. The guar-filled pool and the water-filled pool were each 25 meters long.

Cussler said the study did not yield any practical results or applications.

“It was interesting, that’s it,” he said. “There are a lot of things I’m curious about like this, that don’t have value for research.”

Cussler said that for 300 years, researchers have debated the effect a liquid’s thickness, or viscosity, has on the speed at which objects propel themselves through that liquid.

“Viscosity didn’t matter – what mattered was shape,” Cussler said.

He said a company gift financed the research in return for his consulting or supervision. He did not receive any grant money.

“It’s certainly one of the most odd-ball experiments I’ve done,” said senior chemical engineering student Jonathan DeRocher, who assisted with the research and swam in the substance.

“It felt very similar to water,” he said. “But if you rub your arm, it’s much more slippery and is really nasty as far as cleaning up.”

He said the hardest thing for the swimmers was not being able to see the bottom of the pool.

“They kept running into the walls because they couldn’t see through the water,” he said.

DeRocher said 20 permissions from University personnel were needed to use the pools in Cooke Hall for the experiment.

“A lot of people thought it was an interesting idea and were motivated to make it happen,” he said. “It also happened in the normal course of the pool cleaning schedule.”

Swimming head coach Dennis Dale said his team thought the experiment was interesting and became involved, because one of the swimmers assisted in the research.