Nav: Home

Eindhoven and Mexican researchers prove Huygens was right

March 29, 2016

In 1665 Christiaan Huygens discovered that two pendulum clocks, hung from the same wooden structure, will always oscillate in synchronicity. Today, some 350 years on, Eindhoven and Mexican researchers present the most accurate and detailed description of this 'Huygens synchronization' to date in the journal Scientific Reports. It is evident that Huygens had come up with the right explanation insofar as this was possible back then. Moreover, these insights help us to understand synchronization in all kinds of oscillating systems, such as the biological rhythms of the human body.

'An odd sympathy' was the way the renowned Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens termed the unexpected discovery he made at home in The Hague in 1665. Two pendulum clocks he built himself and hung on the same structure appeared time and again to swing nicely to and fro with the same frequency regardless of their starting position.

Proved right

Lacking the requisite mathematics at the time, Huygens contended that the effect was being caused by tiny vibrations in the wooden structure on which the clocks were hanging. Some 350 years later, Henk Nijmeijer, professor of Dynamics and Control at Eindhoven University of Technology, a Huygens aficionado, along with his Mexican colleagues found that Huygens genial explanation was right. In the journal Scientific Reports - a sister journal of the authoritative Nature - they describe the most comprehensive study undertaken to date on the effect, known today as Huygens synchronisation.

Modern variant

The team performed a modern variant of Huygens' experiment whereby two pendulum clocks specially made for the purpose by the Mexican clock manufacturer Relojes Centenario were placed on a wooden undersurface. In addition to taking extensive measurements, they analyzed and simulated the effect using the most detailed mathematical model developed for this experiment.

Slower

This enabled them to dissect the mechanism behind the synchronization correctly and in detail, and consign to bin the theory proposed two years ago that the synchronization was attributable to acoustic pulses. They also discovered what variables determine whether the clocks swing in parallel with or counter to each other, something that Huygens did not observe. Another new discovery is that pendulum clocks are not only synchronous but also move more slowly over time and thus are not very reliable timekeepers.

Epilepsy attacks

That such an effect has kept scientists fascinated for a good 350 years is partly due to the fact that many similar occurrences of synchronization are present in engineering and in nature, like imbalanced rotor motion or the human heartbeat. There are also indications that certain epileptic attacks are caused by the synchronization of neurons that takes place in the brain.
-end-
Publication in Scientific Reports: The sympathy of two pendulum clocks: beyond Huygens observations

Eindhoven University of Technology

Related Huygens Articles:

Eindhoven and Mexican researchers prove Huygens was right
In 1665, Christiaan Huygens discovered that two pendulum clocks, hung from the same wooden structure, will always oscillate in synchronicity.
Bouncing on Titan
ESA's Huygens probe bounced, slid and wobbled its way to rest in the 10 seconds after touching down on Saturn's moon, Titan, in January 2005, a new analysis reveals.
NASA research estimates how long Titan's chemical factory has been in business
Saturn's giant moon Titan hides within a thick, smoggy atmosphere that's well-known to scientists as one of the most complex chemical environments in the solar system.
Goddard scientists selected as participating scientists in missions
Scientists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., have been selected as Participating Scientists in NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and Cassini missions.
Cassini samples the icy spray of Enceladus water plumes
The NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens mission has directly sampled the water plumes jetting into space from Saturn's moon Enceladus.
The scars of impacts on Mars
ESA's Mars Express has returned new images of an elongated impact crater in the southern hemisphere of Mars.
Europe maintains its presence on the final frontier
ESA has decided to extend the productive lives of 11 of its operating space science missions.
Avoid swimming in interplanetary lakes
Professor Akiva Bar-Nun of Tel Aviv University's has determined the composition of lakes recently discovered on Saturn's moon Titan.
Spanish scientists confirm the existence of electric activity in Titan
The study, in which have participated researchers from the Universities of Granada and Valencia, has been recently published in the journal Icarus The scientific community considers that there is a higher probability that organic molecules precursors to life could form in those planets or satellites which have an atmosphere with electric storms.

Related Huygens Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...