Melting Candy Gives Mathematicians Insight into How Some Landscapes Form

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In this time-lapse video, mathematicians at New York University immersed a block of blue candy in water and filmed it as it dissolved. The candy surface sunk unevenly as some areas melted faster than others, creating ever sharper and longer shards. Eventually the forest of candy spikes toppled as each “tree” fell.

The researchers were aiming to mimic the natural processes that form stone forests—stunning rocky pinnacles of limestone—such as the famous Stone Forestin Kunming, China. The formation processes behind these “tall, slender, and sharply tipped” rock spires “remain unclear,” the scientists wrote in a paper published on September 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Though the geologic mechanisms are complex, the study showed that the relatively simple process of melting a solid in a liquid produced strikingly similar spikes. The scientists hope that by clarifying how stone forests might form, they can aid conservation efforts.

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