Clumping by Surface Tension

Initializing live version
Download to Desktop

Requires a Wolfram Notebook System

Interact on desktop, mobile and cloud with the free Wolfram Player or other Wolfram Language products.

This Demonstration shows the movement of two small, low-density floating objects, such as the doughnut-shaped Cheerios of the well-known oat cereal, toward each other due to the force of buoyancy. The strong buoyancy force makes a Cheerio float above the milk and the liquid's surface forms a meniscus that exhibits surface tension and acts as a flexible membrane. A Cheerio will seek the highest point of the membrane and thus will find its way to either another Cheerio or the wall of the container. Surface tension prevents the Cheerios from floating higher above the milk. In addition, cohesion and adhesion affect the milk's meniscus near the container wall. This clumping phenomenon is known as the Cheerios effect.

Contributed by: Dimei Wu (March 2017)
Open content licensed under CC BY-NC-SA



This was a project for Advanced Topics in Mathematics II, 2016–2017, Torrey Pines High School, San Diego, CA.

The forces , , and are buoyancy, surface tension, adhesion and cohesion, respectively.


[1] D. Vella and L. Mahadevan, "The 'Cheerios Effect,'" American Journal of Physics, 73(9), 2005 pp. 817–825. doi:10.1119/1.1898523.

Feedback (field required)
Email (field required) Name
Occupation Organization
Note: Your message & contact information may be shared with the author of any specific Demonstration for which you give feedback.