Slip n’ Slide

Slipping on a banana peel – Cartoon pratfall, or fascinating biology?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

What makes banana peels so slippery?

That’s what Kiyoshi Mabuchi colleagues at Japan’s Kitasato University wondered. So they set up a scientific slip n’ slide! They placed a banana skin inside-down on a linoleum surface. Underneath the surface was a force transducer, which measures force, weight, and pressure.

Then brave volunteers stepped on the peel, and – whoopsie! Comedy ensued.

Based on the ratio of horizontal to vertical force, the scientists could calculate the friction of the peel, and give it a numerical value. Banana peel on linoleum? Point-zero-six-six, just slightly less slippery than Teflon.

Other fruit peels were tried too. While bananas were slickest, apples came in second. Not so funny? Tangerines.

Under a microscope, the researchers detected a gel-like substance coming from the squished peel – probably the source of the slipperiness. Mabuchi thinks this goo could be developed into a lubricant for artificial joints.

Next study: Can you really run off a cliff without falling until you look down? I’ve always wondered….