Rayleigh Benard Convection

I know that this is probably pretty common to see, but I try to avoid heating up vegetable oil regularly.  That being said, I had occassion to heat up a thin layer of cooking oil while preparing dinner yesterday and noticed a geometric pattern take shape in the surface of the oil.

I knew enough about what I was looking at to know that I should know what I was looking at.  A quick internet search revealed that these hexagonal cells are manifestations of Rayleigh Benard convection.  Basically, as long as the temperature gradient isn’t too big (I snapped this pick while the stove was heating up), these tidy little convection cells order themselves in a honeycomb pattern of circulating fluid, dissipating heat at the surface.

It’s amazing the science you can see all around you if you’re paying attention!

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