Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics

Celebrating the physics of all that flows. Ask a question, submit a post idea or send an email. You can also follow FYFD on Twitter and Google+. FYFD is written by Nicole Sharp, PhD.

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Posts tagged "vortices"

In the summer months, a breeze can set long grasses waving in an impressive display. Similar behaviors are seen in aquatic plants during tides. Researchers simulate the behavior in two-dimensions using a flowing soap film and nylon filaments. Flow visualization reveals the strong differences between flow above and between the grass. Vortices recirculate between the filaments at speeds much slower than the flow overhead. The instantaneous interaction of the high-speed freestream, the unsteady vortices, and the resistance of the grass results in familiar synchronous waves of grain.  (Video credit: R. Singh et al.)

Von Karman vortex streets are a pattern of alternating vortices shed in the wake of a bluff body. They’re commonly associated with cylinders and can be demonstrated in simulation and in the lab. (They even show up in supersonic flows.) But they also show up in nature quite frequently, like in this cloud pattern off Central America. Such wakes often occur downstream of rocky, volcanic islands that rise above the smooth ocean surface and disrupt the atmosphere’s boundary layer. The same phenomenon is responsible for the “singing” of electrical lines on a windy day, and I’ve even heard it make the spokes on my bicycle wheel sing in a crosswind. (Photo credit: R. Mastracchio; via @BadAstronomer; submitted by jshoer)

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)

A simple cylinder in a steady flow creates a beautiful wake pattern known as a von Karman vortex street. The image above shows several examples of this pattern. Flow is from bottom to top, and the Reynolds number is increasing from left to right. In the experiment, this increasing Reynolds number corresponds to increasing the flow velocity because the cylinder size, fluid, and temperature were all fixed. As the Reynolds number first increases, the cylinder begins to shed vortices. The vortices alternate the side of the cylinder from which they are shed as well as alternating in their sense of rotation (clockwise or counterclockwise). Further increasing the Reynolds number increases the complexity of the wake, with more and more vortices being shed. The vortex street is a beautiful example of how fluid behavior is similar across a range of scales from the laboratory to our planet’s atmosphere.  (Image credit: Z. Trávníček et. al)

Knots have long fascinated humans, appearing in art for thousands of years and generating entire fields of study. Until recently, however, the idea of a knotted fluid was purely theoretical. To knot fluids, researchers used 3D printing to create twisted hydrofoil shapes. When towed through water, fluid travels around the shape and spins up at the trailing edge, creating a knotted vortex ring. The knotted vortices were captured with 3D imaging, allowing scientists to observe how they evolve. So far the knots they’ve created have all been unstable, deforming until two vortex lines approach one another. Upon contact, the vortices disconnect and reconnect with one another, unraveling the knot. Intriguingly, these vortex reconnections seem remarkably similar to the vortex reconnections observed between quantized vortices in superfluids. (Video credit: D. Kleckner et al.)

Vortices appear in scales both large and small, from your shower and the flap of an insect’s wing to cyclones and massive storms on other planets. Especially with these large-scale vortices, it can be difficult to understand the factors that affect their trajectories and intensities over time. Here researchers have studied the vortices produced on a heated half bubble for clues as to their long-term behavior. Heating the base of the bubble creates large thermal plumes which rise and generate large vortices, like the one seen above, on the bubble’s surface. Researchers observed the behavior of the vortices with and without rotation of the bubble. They found that rotating bubbles favored vortices near the polar latitudes of the bubble, just as planets like the Earth and Saturn have long-lived polar vortices. They also found that the intensification of both bubble vortices and hurricanes was reasonably captured by a single time constant, which may lead to better predictions of storm behaviors. Their latest paper is freely available here. (Image credit: H. Kellay et al.; research credit: T. Meuel et al.; via io9)

Vortex shedding frequently happens in the wakes of non-streamlined bodies as a result of flow around the obstacle. Newton’s third law states that forces come in equal and opposite pairs, meaning that the vortex shedding behind an obstacle is accompanied by a force on the obstacle. For a fixed cylinder, this is not always apparent, but for a pendulum, like the ones demonstrated in this video, this vortex-induced vibration causes significant motion. This same effect can make traffic lights and industrial chimneys sway. You’ve likely experienced it yourself as well, if while swimming you’ve ever spread your fingers underwater and spun in place. Try it sometime with your arm out and you’ll feel the vortices make your arm vibrate up and down as you spin.  (Video credit: Harvard Natural Sciences Lecture Demonstrations)

New research using free-flying northern bald ibises shows that during group flights the birds’ positioning and flapping maximize aerodynamic efficiency. In flight, a bird’s wings generate wingtip vortices, just as a fixed-wing aircraft does. These vortices stretch in the bird’s wake, creating upwash in some regions and downwash in others as the bird flaps. According to theory, to maximize efficiency a trailing bird should exploit upwash and avoid downwash by flying at a 45-degree angle to its leading neighbor and matching its flapping frequency. The researchers found that, on average, this was the formation and timing the flock assumed. In situations where the birds were flying one behind the next in a straight line, the birds tended to offset their flapping by half a cycle relative to the bird ahead of them—another efficient configuration according to theory. Researchers don’t yet know how the birds track and match their neighbors; perhaps, like cyclists in a peloton, they learn by experience how to position themselves for efficiency. For more information, see the researchers’ video and paper. (Photo credit: M. Unsold; research credit: S. Portugal; via Ars Technica; submitted by M. Piedallu van Wyk)

Today we have some holiday-themed fluid dynamics: visualization of flow around Santa’s sleigh! This is a flowing soap film visualization at a low speed (author Nick Moore has some other speeds as well). Santa’s sleigh is what aerodynamicists call a bluff body—a shape that is not streamlined or aerodynamic—and sheds a complicated wake of vortices. Like any object moving through a fluid, Santa’s sleigh generates drag forces made up of several components. There is viscous drag, which comes from friction between the sleigh’s surface and the fluid, and form drag (or pressure drag), which comes from the shape of the sleigh. That wake full of complicated vortices significantly increases the sleigh’s pressure drag, requiring Rudolph and the other reindeer to provide more thrust to counter the sleigh’s drag. Speaking thereof, the visualization does not take into account the aerodynamics of the reindeer, who, in addition to providing the sleigh’s thrust, would also affect the flowfield upstream of the sleigh. This post is part of this week’s holiday-themed post series. (Video credit: N. Moore)

Smectic liquid crystals can form extremely thin films, similar to a soap bubble, that are sensitive to electrically-induced convection. Here an annular smectic film lies between two electrodes. When a voltage is applied across it, positive and negative charges build up on the surface of the film near their respective electrodes. The electrical field surrounding the fluid pushes on the surface charges, causing flow inside the film. Above a threshold voltage, an instability forms and the film develops into a series of counter-rotating vortices, which spin faster as the voltage increases. The color variations in the video above are due to differences in the film’s thickness, much like iridescence of a soap bubble. (Video credit: P. Kruse and S. Morris)