Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Committee Chair(s)

Tadd Truscott


Tadd Truscott


Barton Smith


Ryan Berke


Robert Spall


Jesse Belden


David Peak


Soft and deformable silicone rubber spheres ricochet from a water surface when rigid spheres and disks (or skipping stones) cannot. This dissertation investigates why these objects are able to skip so successfully. High speed cameras allow us to see that these unique spheres deform significantly as they impact the water surface, flattening into pancake-like shapes with greater area. Though the water entry behavior of deformable spheres deviates from that of rigid spheres, our research shows that if this deformation is accounted for, their behavior can be predicted from previously established methods. Soft spheres skip more easily because they deform significantly when impacting the water surface. We present a diagram which enables the prediction of a ricochet from sphere impact conditions such as speed and angle. Experiments and mathematical representations of the sphere skipping both show that these deformable spheres skip more readily because deformation momentarily increases sphere area and produces an attack angle with the water which is favorable to skipping. Predictions from our mathematical representation of sphere skipping agree strongly with observations from experiments. Even when a sphere was allowed to skip multiple times in the laboratory, the mathematical predictions show good agreement with measured impact conditions through subsequent skipping events. While studying multiple impact events in an outdoor setting, we discovered a previously unidentified means of skipping, which is unique to deformable spheres. This new skipping occurs when a relatively soft sphere first hits the water at a high speed and low impact angle and the sphere begins to rotate very quickly. This quick rotation causes the sphere to stretch into a shape similar to an American football and maintain this shape while it spins. The sphere is observed to move nearly parallel with the water surface with the tips of this “football” dipping into the water as it rotates and the sides passing just over the surface. This sequence of rapid impact events give the impression that the sphere is walking across the water surface.