8B10.40 - Convection Cells or Rayleigh-Benard Cell

Code Number:
Demo Title:
Convection Cells or Rayleigh-Benard Cell
Solar Convection Cells
Area of Study:
Heat and Fluids, Astronomy
Hot Plate, Frying Pan, Silicon Oil with Powdered Aluminum, Funnel.

See also 2B40.55 in Heat and Fluids, 2B40.55 in Astronomy, and 4B20.50 in Heat and Fluids.

Place the frying pan on the hot plate.  Turn the hot plate to between 350 and 400 on the temperature dial.  Add the full pint of oil/aluminum powder mixture.

CAUTION: The oil does not have to be very hot to give good convection cells.  If the temperature is too high the oil may ignite.

Once the cells have formed they will appear very stable.  You can use a spoon to disturb the cell structure and watch its reformation.

This demo will show mostly 5 fold symmetry.

  • Jay Pasachoff, "This Month's Cover...", TPT, Vol. 55, #3, Mar. 2017, p. 129.
  • Todd R. Leif, "Lava Lamp", TPT, Vol. 46, #4, April 2008, p. 219.
  • Cover Picture, TPT, Vol. 35, #7, Oct. 1997.
  • Stephen J. Van Hook and Michael F. Schatz, "Simple Demonstrations of Pattern Formation", TPT, Vol. 35, #7, Oct. 1997, p. 391.
  • John Wettlaufer, "The Universe in a Cup of Coffee", Physics Today, Vol. 64, #5, May 2011, p. 66.
  • A. V. Getling and O. Brausch, "Cellular Flow Patterns and their Evolutionary Scenarios in Three-Dimensional Rayleigh-Benard Convection", The American Physical Society, Physical Review E 67, 046313-1, 2003.
  • Jearl Walker, "2.89, Tia Maria Worm-Like Patterns", The Flying Circus of Physics Ed. 2, p. 120.
  • Jearl Walker, "2.90, Patterns in Hot Coffee and Other Fluids", The Flying Circus of Physics Ed. 2, p. 120.
  • Peacock, Rayleigh-Benard cells, E-mail, 2005.

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