Whiz Kids

The following article is from Uncle John’s Factastic Bathroom Reader.

(Image credit: JosvanE)

“Whiz kid” is used to describe any exceptionally smart or successful young person. Here at the BRI, we use it to describe folks who are not only smart— but also use their brilliance for… well, read on and see for yourself.

WHIZ KIDS: Randy Hurd, Kip Hacking, Benjamin Haymore, and Tad Truscott, four physicists at Brigham Young University’s “Splash Lab”

CONTRIBUTION TO HUMANITY: Studying the physics of urinal “splash-back” and devising a way to prevent it. (For anyone who’s never used a urinal, splash-back is exactly what it sounds like: when you pee into a urinal, some droplets hit the back wall and splash back onto the floor… or onto your pants.)

DETAILS: BYU’s Splash Lab studies the physical properties of liquids in motion, an area of physics known as fluid dynamics. Because they receive a lot of funding from the Office of Naval Research, they usually study water. But late one night in 2012, while driving back from a conference in San Diego (a 700-mile trip that must have included plenty of pit stops), Hurd and Truscott came up with the idea of using the lab to study another kind of fluid dynamics.

Using a 3-D printer, the team created a simulated urethra (the duct by which urine leaves the body), then rigged some equipment to squirt a stream of blue-dyed water through it at a rate of 21 ml (about 1 ½ tablespoons) per second, the pressure and flow rate of a healthy adult male. They aimed the device at an improvised “urinal-like environment” and let it flow, filming the results with a high-speed camera. They placed sheets of white paper below the fake urinal to show how much liquid splashed out and where.


• One of the main culprits in creating splash-back is a phenomenon known as the Plateau-Rayleigh instability— the tendency of a stream of liquid to break into droplets after traveling a short distance. The researchers found that their stream broke into droplets six inches after exiting the simulated urethra, and those droplets created more splashback than that of a single unbroken stream.
• When the droplets splashed into water, such as that pooled at the bottom of a urinal, the impact created a momentary cavity or “hole” in the surface of the water. (If a second drop struck the same spot, it made the hole even deeper.) When the hole collapsed a fraction of a second later, it created its own splash, adding to the size and volume of the splash-back.


• Stand closer to the urinal. You want to stand close enough to the urinal to allow your stream to remain a stream. And since the Plateau-Rayleigh instability comes into effect six inches after the stream leaves your body, you want to close the gap to less than six inches. The Splash Lab researchers found that standing 15 inches back from the urinal sprayed droplets over a 150-square-inch area, but standing five inches away reduced the spray to almost nothing.

• Aim for a vertical surface. Aim for the back wall of the urinal but not straight on. If the stream strikes the back of the urinal at a 90 ° angle, the droplets will splash back the same way they came— toward you. Aim sideways, down, or both and try to reduce the angle of attack to less than 30 °. That helps contain any splash-back within the urinal, reducing the amount sprayed back toward you by as much as 90 percent.

• Stay out of the water. Aiming for the water at the bottom of the urinal or toilet bowl (even if it’s being flushed) will only increase the amount of splash.

WHIZ KIDS: Nate Rhodes, James Allen, Mitch Barneck, Martin de La Presa, and Ahrash Poursaid, bioengineering students at the University of Utah

CONTRIBUTION TO HUMANITY: Finding a way to prevent the most common— and dangerous— hospital-acquired infections

DETAILS: Rhodes’s aunt works as a primary care nurse, and she taught him more than he probably ever wanted to know about infections caused by catheters, the tubes that are used to drain urine and other fluids from the body. They’re responsible for 40 percent of all hospital-acquired infections, including four million urinary tract infections each year. Infections caused by catheters can be deadly, but they’re notoriously difficult to prevent because once a catheter is in place, it’s hard to keep it sterile and free of infections caused by bacteria… or at least it used to be.

After researching different ways to fight infection, Rhodes and his classmates developed a catheter that can be sterilized in vivo (while it’s still inside the patient’s body), using nothing more than light. The technology they devised is similar to fiber-optic cables, which use light to transmit telephone calls or cable television signals. But instead of transmitting TV shows, the catheter glows with light of a wavelength that’s 99.9% effective at killing bacteria without harming the surrounding human tissue. It is the first catheter capable of sterilizing itself while still inside the patient.


• If you think their idea is a good one, you’re not alone: The students have already won more than $ 95,000 in academic prizes for their invention. They are using their winnings to fund further development of the catheter.

• The students have filed for a patent for the device and have founded their own startup company, Veritas Medical LLC, to bring their LIGHT LINE Catheter to market. Clinical trials are scheduled to begin in 2015. If successful, the LIGHT LINE Catheter could be saving lives as early as 2016.

WHIZ KIDS: Georgia Institute of Technology assistant professor David Hu and the undergraduates in his fluid dynamics course

CONTRIBUTION TO HUMANITY: Discovering a new “Law of Urination” for mammals

DETAILS: One afternoon a few years back, Hu was changing his kid’s wet diaper, and it occurred to him that he was lucky the child wasn’t an elephant. That thought turned into a problem for his fluid dynamics class: given that an adult elephant has a bladder as large as an oil drum and a urethra “comparable to a drain beneath a sink,” as Hu puts it, how long does it take the animal to relieve itself? Answer: an average of 21 seconds. We know this because some of Hu’s students went to Zoo Atlanta and filmed the elephants peeing.

(Image credit: Kevin)

What about other animals? The undergraduates filmed mice, rats, a bat, a dog, two goats, and two cows. They also found 29 YouTube videos of mammals answering nature’s call— including a gorilla, a panda, three horses, a rhino, and a house cat— and timed them all to see how long it took them to pee. That’s when they noticed something that apparently no one had noticed before: every one of the animals that weighed more than 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) took, on average, 21 seconds to relieve itself. It didn’t matter if the animal was male or female, or whether the bladder held half a cup of liquid, as in the case of a 20-pound dog, or 42 gallons, as in the case of the elephant. They all emptied their bladders in the same amount of time. “This constancy of emptying time is quite a feat upon consideration of the substantial bladders of larger animals,” Hu wrote in “Law of Urination,” his academic paper describing the phenomenon.


• To find out what was responsible for the pit stop parity, Hu and his students researched the “urethra geometries” of the animals and concluded that they were remarkably consistent: no matter what the animal’s size (even if it was too small for the Law of Urination to apply), the length of its urethra was always 20 times the diameter. A rat weighing half a pound had a urethra 1 millimeter (0.03 inch) in diameter and 2 centimeters long, for example, and an elephant weighing 11,000 pounds had one that was 5 centimeters (about 2 inches) in diameter and 1 meter (39.3 inches) long. Bladder capacity was also consistent. Regardless of the animal’s size, its bladder, when full, made up 5 percent of its total body weight.

• Why are the animals able to relieve themselves so quickly? According to Hu, it’s all in the urethra:

By providing a water-tight pipe to direct urine downward, the urethra increases the gravitational force acting on urine.… Larger animals have longer urethras, and so greater gravitational force driving flow… enabling them to empty their substantial bladders over approximately the same duration. Our findings reveal that the urethra evolved as a flow-enhancing device, allowing the urinary system to scale up by a factor of 3,600 without compromising its function.

So does Hu plan to delve deeper into the subject in the future? No, he says. “I think this is all I wanted to say about urine.”


“CONTRIBUTION”: Inventing a device that aids people who can’t wait in long lines to use public restrooms

DETAILS: Natush invented the Whizdom “personal urinary device,” mankind’s latest attempt to provide males with a discreet way to pee anywhere, anytime. The design of the device is simple: it’s a 40-inch narrow latex tube that’s open at both ends and worn underneath pants. Roll one end of the tube up to adjust for length, so that the end pokes out of your pant leg about ½ inch above the ground, then roll the other end onto your you-know-what. Now anytime nature calls, simply stroll over to some grass or step onto the grate of a storm drain and go with the flow. The Whizdom isn’t for everyone, but if you think it isn’t for anyone, you’ll be surprised to learn that Natusch has managed to find some buyers. “Guys, if you are in an occupation that makes it inconvenient to get to a bathroom when it is an absolute emergency, then make sure you are equipped with this high quality and reliable survival tool,” one “verified purchaser” writes on Amazon.com. Still, just because you can pee anywhere, that doesn’t mean you should, Natusch cautions. “Always try to be respectful and discreet. Please pee responsible!”


The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Factastic Bathroom Reader. The 28th volume of the series is chock-full of fascinating stories and facts, and comes in both the Kindle version and paper with a classy cloth cover.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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