How many licks does it take to reach the center of a lollipop? A new mathematical model formulated by scientists at New York University and Florida State University pegs the answer at 1,000.
That number is an estimate for a one-inch lollipop, and it holds true only if the tongue does its job without any help from the teeth.
"Our model assumes no biting!" Dr. Leif Ristroph, assistant professor of mathematics at NYU's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the study's senior author, joked in an email to The Huffington Post.
Lollipop licks might sound like pure whimsy, but the study had its serious side. Its aim was to describe in detail the process by which flowing water shapes and ultimately dissolves materials--a process of considerable interest to scientists in fields ranging from chemical engineering and pharmacology to geology.
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Diagram of the apparatus used in the study.
For the study, which was published online Jan. 26 in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, the scientists immersed different shapes of hard candy in flowing water. Then they used time-lapse photography to record changes in the candy.
They found that the water turned the candy into a consistent shape no matter its initial shape or the speed of the water current. Ristroph called it "smooth and rounded on the flow-facing side" and "gnarly with little bumps and divots" on the backside.
"We call this shape a 'sculpture'--dissolved by the flow--and its shape gave us the clues to how dissolution works and how to model it mathematically," Ristroph said in the email.
Ristroph went on to point out that the researchers made their own lollipops for the study--and that some of the lollies wound up not in the water tunnel but, inevitably, in the scientists' mouths.