Though the phrase has fallen into overuse in some physics or even larger scientific circles, we can call an electric honeycomb an example of a true phenomenon: the polygonal pattern that appears when electrically charged particles of a particular type have a small collision with traces of oil. This journey happens between a pointy and flat electrode. Still, it begs the important question: does the frequency of occurrence or the mere nature of the occurrence make it a phenomenon? The answer, of course, is a little bit of both. Also referred to as the rose-window instability due to its resemblance to stained-glass windows associated with churches from various periods, it is essentially an interruption of the path of an electric charge.
17-year-old Muhammad Shaheer Niazi recently replicated this phenomenon. The Pakistani high school student was not the first to do so: he drew from a lineage of scientists who had come before him.
In his findings shared in 1997, Dr. Pérez Izquierdo discussed how the honeycombs create a kind of miniaturized lightning effect. Essentially, the molecules being separated from their electrons by the high voltage electrode above create something called a corona discharge, and the molecules then begin to aggressively bombard the field to try to make contact with the ground electrode. The oil merely becomes the catalyst.
Niazi’s work was presented as part of his participation in the International Young Physicists’ Tournament last year, and his findings were published in the Royal Society Open Science journal this week on October 3rd, no small feat for a person of his age. The publication is titled "The Electric Honeycomb; an investigation of the Rose window instability".
It includes striking images of the ions coming from the tip of an electrode, moments before the collision with the oily surface. He did this using the Schlieren photographic technique—the visual process is used in instances of capturing the flow of fluids of different densities.
“We can say this is frustrated lightning,” Izquierdo said of the honeycombs in his research twenty years ago. Niazi added the exciting element of observing temperature change on the surface of the oil to his experiment, something previous physicists hadn’t done. This achievement has earned the praise, and guidance, from pioneer Izquierdo.
Izquierdo said of the young man and his discovery, “I think it’s outstanding for so young a scientist to reproduce these results.”
The job of physicists is to be experts at observing the constantly evolving relationship between stability and instability, which makes Niazi’s replication of observing the phenomenon so significant. Older colleagues are applauding his well-deserved efforts, and he, in turn, is elevating the status of his country in terms of making scientific contributions in the field.