Science 3 min read

New Study Says Swirling Liquids Follow Same Principles as Cryptocurrencies

Chansom Pantip /

Chansom Pantip /

A Stanford University doctoral student found that swirling liquids work similarly to cryptocurrencies.

William Gilpin, a Stanford University applied-physics doctoral student, described in his paper how swirling liquids follow the same principles used in cryptocurrency transactions.

“Fluids may store and manipulate information, enabling complex applications ranging from digital logic gates to algorithmic self-assembly,” Gilpin wrote in his paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Apparently, the functions that govern both virtual currencies and physical processes could aid in developing more sophisticated digital security while helping researchers better understand physical processes in nature.

“Having an actual physical model and showing that this is a naturally occurring process might open up new ways to think about those functions,” Gilpin was quoted as saying.

According to Gilpin, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin use something called hashing. To put it simply, Hashing, in Blockchain, is taking inputs of any length and giving an output of a fixed length.

Bitcoin, for example, uses a hashing algorithm called SHA-256, which always returns a 256-bit length output for any input.

Hashing is said to bear a strong similarity to the chaotic behavior observed in certain types of flows when liquids are mixed.

“We show that chaotic stirring of a viscous fluid naturally produces a characteristic signature of the stirring process in the arrangement of particles in the fluid and that this signature directly satisfies the requirements for a cryptographic hash function,” Gilpin explained.

By focusing on a principle called chaotic mixing, Gilpin observed that mixed fluids like coffee and creamer exhibit results that resemble the hash function. For instance, the different patterns produced by stirring the liquid makes it hard to determine the original action of the stirrer. This is similar to the way hashing makes determining the correct output of a transaction changes information so that the would be impossible to identify.

In this analogy, stirring is the input and the arrangement of the coffee and creamer after it ceases to swirl is the output. The stirring length, location, and direction can change, but the coffee and creamer will always settle within a fixed area.

Gilpin’s study also suggests that cryptographic or human-devised computations are not unique to the digital world.

“Something as ordinary as fluid is still performing computations,” Gilpin explained. “It’s not something only humans tell computers to do. It’s something that nature does, and it shows up in the structure of how things form.”

Where else do you think Gilpin’s study on swirling liquid be applied?

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Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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