The Physics of Not Spilling Coffee

Scientists are hard at work on figuring out how not to spill coffee.

MailOnline (“It’s all in the walk: Scientists explore the physics behind NOT spilling coffee“):

Researchers are a step closer to understanding the science behind one of life’s common pitfalls – spilling coffee.

Scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara, decided to investigate the physics behind the best way of carrying coffee without causing spillages.

‘In our busy lives, almost all of us have to walk with a cup of coffee. While often we spill the drink, this familiar phenomenon has never been explored systematically,’ the abstract of the paper entitled ‘Walking with coffee: Why does it spill?‘ states.


The research, published in the journal Physical Review E, found that in average sized mugs the coffee’s natural frequency was the same as a person’s gait, which caused the liquid to oscillate. 

The spillages were most likely between a coffee carrier’s seventh and tenth step, according to Live Science.

Following their discovery, the mechanical engineers had some advice for coffee drinkers. 

They said leaving a large gap between the coffee and the top of the drinking vessel, and walking slower, prevents spillages. 

They added that watching the mug, rather than the floor, while carrying it proved to be a more effective coffee-holding method.

As my former officemate Steven Taylor can attest, I could benefit from this research. Except that, holy moly, these are some no shit findings. I’ve got important work to do, man. I can’t be filling my coffee cup up constantly and paying attention. I’ve got to fill it to the brim and dash back to the computer.

FILED UNDER: Humor, Science & Technology, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. BigFire says:

    Are these guys aiming for IgNoble Award for Physics?

  2. When I was selected for Sergeant First Class (E-7), a current SFC told me that the most important thing for me to learn was the “coffee walk”, that is, walk by all the desks with a cup of coffee in hand. “How’s it going?” “Is that report done yet?” “Remember, the CO wants that done today!” You have to quickly brief all of your subordinates until you reach your own office, close the door, put your feet up, and take a nice, full sip of that wonderful cup o’ joe.

    Good senior NCO training!

  3. If I was a scientist and wanted to waste my time studying irrelevant topics, I’d at least make it a comparative study of the relative hotness of supermodels

  4. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: That won’t get published–it’s not a serious enough topic.

    On the other side, Korean universities pay bonuses of up to 10 million won (about $9700 at current exchange rate) to professors who publish in international journals. I’ll check the level of this one and get back with bonus data.

  5. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    The journal appears to be a fairly high prestiege journal–Physical Review started publication in 1893 and branched into specialized topics in 1970. Physical Review E (first published in 1993–continuously since 1996) lists statistical, nonlinear, and soft matter physics as its specialized topics since 2001 and is one of eight journals in the under the Physical Review bannerhead.

    Looks like this is a KA-ching article where I am right now.

  6. Racehorse says:

    Is this one of those government funded deals, that was paid for probably out of the so called “stimulus money”? Maybe not. The best way to settle this a lot quicker, cheaper, and with a better solution would be to turn to Disney: they know everything about food handling efficiency.

  7. Franklin says:

    Two scientists were drifting along in a hot air balloon for a long time. They spotted some guy on a hill and shouted down, “where are we?” The guy waited a long time to answer, and when the balloon was almost out of ear shot, yelled, “in a balloon!” One scientist said to the other, “that guy was an engineer”. “How do you know?” “Because he took a long time to come up with his answer, which was exactly correct but completely useless.”

    Except that, holy moly, these are some no shit findings.

    Yup, typical engineers.

  8. jd says:

    I’m an engineer. Just put a spoon in it. It’s like walking with a mug of jello.

  9. Gollum says:

    Y’all are missing the real gem here:

    “. . . in average sized mugs the coffee’s natural frequency was the same as a person’s gait.”

    Coincidence? I think not.

  10. John Burgess says:

    @Gollum: That’s why my coffee mug holds at least a liter/quart.

  11. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Doug Mataconis: By the way, how is being a blogger who blathers away about drum circles different from the authors of this article?

  12. rodney dill says:

    I’m more concerned with not spilling coffee over a keyboard, (when my career started), and over a laptop (now). than when walking.

  13. Franklin says:

    @rodney dill: I once heard a funny story of some lady who went to her IT department because her keyboard stopped working. This is years ago so they tried to fix it first rather than tossing it in the trash. After taking it apart, they found dried dark stains all over the circuits. When they asked the lady if she had spilled coffee on the keyboard, she replied, “yeah, does that matter?”

  14. “As my former officemate Steven Taylor can attest, I could benefit from this research. ”

    Amen, brother.

    Those spots are probably still there.

  15. J-Dub says:

    Reminds me of my all-time favorite Dilbert cartoon: