Swimming in syrup is as easy as water

"The fluid looked like snot. I don't know how to describe it any more poetically."

It's a question that has taxed generations of the finest minds in physics: do humans swim slower in syrup than in water? And since you ask, the answer's no. Scientists have filled a swimming pool with a syrupy mixture and proved it. [...]

The most troublesome part of the experiment was getting permission to do it in the first place. Cussler and Gettelfinger had to obtain 22 separate kinds of approval, including persuading the local authorities that it was okay to put their syrup down the drain afterwards. [...]

While it might sound like a trivial question, the principle is actually fundamental. Isaac Newton and his contemporary Christiaan Huygens argued the toss over it back in the 17th century while Newton was writing his Principia Mathematica, which sets out many of the laws of physics. Newton thought that an object's speed through a fluid would depend on its viscosity, whereas Huygens thought it would not. In the end, Newton included both versions in his text.

Hamstrung by their lack of access to guar gum or competitive swimmers, Newton's and Huygens' work was mainly theoretical. Cussler's demonstration shows that Huygens was right, at least for human-sized projectiles.

The reason, explains Cussler, is that while you experience more "viscous drag" (basically friction from your movement through the fluid) as the water gets thicker, you generate more forwards force from every stroke. The two effects cancel each other out.

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