What holds the world together? The Cheerios effect

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Have you ever noticed how the last bits of cereal in the bowl always seem to cling to one another, making it easy to spoon up the remaining stragglers? Physicists have — and they’ve given it a name: the “Cheerios effect.”

This effect isn’t exclusive to breakfast cereals, however. It also reveals itself in the way particles move in the air, pollen floats on the surface of water and galaxies cluster throughout the universe.

“If you put Cheerios in a bowl, they aggregate,” said Arshad Kudrolli, a physicist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “Or if you look at foam floating on a beer, you get clumps. That’s because of surface tension.”

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