From air conditioning to astral convection

French researchers have carried out the first experiments to measure how heat flow behaves far from a heated surface. They used a carefully arranged set of thermometers in a cell of heated water to track the convection currents and to determined the size of the "blobs" of warm water that transfer heat. Mathieu Gibert and his colleagues at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon have also proposed a method of determining heat flow in less controlled situations, such as the atmosphere. The results could help researchers better understand convection high in the atmosphere, around high-speed computer chips, air-conditioning systems, and even the insides of stars. Arranging the thermometers in this latter example could be rather problematic, however.