Friday, 27 January 2012

When do babies learn about Surface Tension?

Discovering fluids dynamics.  These kids are all peeing while in the water.

A recent revicw of published literature from the past 30 years (wow that is a lot), Kristy vanMarle, together with Susan Hespos of Northwestern University, found evidence for an intuitive understanding of physics in infants as young as two months.  This is the earliest age at which testing can occur.

I have three young nieces, both my best friend and my girlfriend's brother had a babies recently so I am learning more about children. I find it interesting to really understand whether children can understand physical principles at such a young age.  Physics for me should be explored and understood when you are under 10 and can practice it in a real world setting and not when you are in a closed room at a University. 

Children most likely sense and potentially understand the difference of surface tension of different substances.  The study may confer this.  'By five months, they don't expect non-cohesive substances like sand or water to be solid...'. From all baths they receive they probably can understand that adding soap to the water helps to clean better,  the better wettability of cloth diapers vs. synthetic diapers, or clear difference in surface tension of breast milk vs. water.

Children have to learn by interacting with the world though, learning and experimenting about surface tension by interacting with different fluids.  'The majority of an adult’s everyday interactions with the world are automatic, the study author says - and it appears that babies have the same ability to form expectations, predicting the behavior of objects and substances with which they interact.'  However,. this has to be achieved through the 'natural interaction with the parent and objects in the world gives the child all the input that evolution has prepared the child to seek, accept and use to develop intuitive physics." 

Is your baby going to be a physicist that studies surface tension?     Let's hope so we need more of them.


P.S. When we move to the moon or mars we will have to deal with a new set of physics that are not intuitive on earth.  This will be interesting.