Flow patterns can change dramatically as fluid speed and Reynolds number increase. These visualizations show flow moving from left to right around a circular plunger. The lower Reynolds number flow is on the left, with a large, well-formed, singular vortex spinning off the plunger’s shoulder. The image on the right is from a higher Reynolds number and higher freestream speed. Now the instantaneous flow field is more complicated, with a string of small vortices extending from the plunger and a larger and messier area of recirculation behind the plunger. In general, increasing the Reynolds number of a flow makes it more turbulent, generating a larger range of length scales in the flow and increasing its complexity. (Image credit: S. O’Halloran)
Sneezing and coughing are major contributors to the spread of many pathogens. Both are multiphase flows, consisting of both liquid droplets and gaseous vapors that interact. The image on the left shows a sneeze cloud as a turbulentplume. The kink in the cloud shows that plume is buoyant, which helps it remain aloft. The right image shows trajectories for some of the larger droplets ejected in a sneeze. Like the sneeze cloud, these droplets persist for significant distances. The buoyancy of the cloud also helps keep aloft some of the smaller pathogen-bearing droplets. Researchers are building models for these multiphase flows and their interactions to better predict and counter the spread of such airborne pathogens. For similar examples of fluid dynamics in public health, see what coughing looks like, how hospital toilets may spread pathogens, and how adjusting viscoelastic properties may counter these effects. (Image credit: L. Bourouiba et al.)
Every year Chicago dyes its river green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. This timelapse video shows this year’s dyeing, including several passes from a boat distributing the green dye. The color is remarkably slow to diffuse. The boat’s passage does little to affect the motion of the dye already in the river. This is because the boat mainly disturbs the surface and most of the color comes from dye spread throughout the water. It’s like if you tried to stir milk into your coffee just by tapping the surface with your spoon. Instead, the slower, large-scale turbulent motion of the river distributes the dye. For more St. Patrick’s Day physics, be sure to check out Guinness physics and why tapping a beer makes it foam. (Video credit: P. Tsai; submitted by Bobby E.)
Though they may appear random at first glance, turbulent flows do possess structure. The video above shows a numerical simulation of a mixing layer, a flow in which two adjacent regions of fluid move with different velocities. The upper third of the frame shows a top view, and the bottom frame shows a side view, in which the upper fluid layer moves faster than the lower one. The difference in velocities creates shear which quickly drives the mixing layer into turbulence. But watch the chaos carefully, and your eye will pick out vortices rolling clockwise in the largest scales of the mixing layer. These features are known as coherent structures, and they are key to current efforts to understand and model turbulent flows. (Video credit: A. McMullan)
Finally, today’s lead image comes from our friends at Think Elephants, who study elephant intelligence over in Thailand and occasionally capture the animals’ mastery of fluid dynamics. Be sure to check them out and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.
When supersonic flow is achieved through a wind tunnel or rocket nozzle, the flow is said to have “started”. For this to happen, a shock wave must pass through, leaving supersonic flow in its wake. The series of images above show a shock wave passing through an ideal rocket nozzle contour. Flow is from the top to bottom. As the shock wave passes through the nozzle expansion, its interaction with the walls causes flow separation at the wall. This flow separation artificially narrows the rocket nozzle (see images on right), which hampers the acceleration of the air to its designed Mach number. It also causes turbulence and pressure fluctuations that can impact performance. (Image credit: B. Olson et al.)
Turbulence is an excellent mixer. Here two fluorescent dyes are injected into a turbulent water jet. Flow is from the bottom of the image toward the top. The dyes are quickly mixed into the background fluid by momentum convection, their concentration decreasing with increased distance from the source. Large-scale structures like the eddies visible in this image drive this convection of momentum in turbulent flows. In contrast, consider laminar flows, where momentum and molecular diffusion dominate how fluids move. In such laminar flows, it’s even possible to unmix two fluids, a feat that cannot be accomplished in the jet above. (Photo credit: M. Kree et al.; via @AIP_Publishing)
Air dancers—those long fabric tubes with fans blowing into the bottom—are a popular way for shops to draw attention. They bend and flutter, shake and kink, all due to the interaction of airflow in and around them with the fabric. When the interior flow is smooth and laminar, the tube will stand upright, with very little motion. As the air inside transitions, some fluttering of the tube can be observed. Ultimately, it is when the air flow becomes turbulent that the cloth really dances. Variations in the flow are strong enough at this point that the tube will occasionally buckle. Behind this constriction, the flow pressure increases until its force is enough to overcome the weight of the tube and lift it once more. (Video credit: A. Varsano)