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.

Recent Tweets @
Posts tagged "vortices"

Ethereal forms shift and swirl in photographer Thomas Herbich’s series “Smoke”. The cigarette smoke in the images is a buoyant plume. As it rises, the smoke is sheared and shaped by its passage through the ambient air. What begins as a laminar plume is quickly disturbed, rolling up into vortices shaped like the scroll on the end of a violin. The vortices are a precursor to the turbulence that follows, mixing the smoke and ambient air so effectively that the smoke diffuses into invisibility. To see the full series, see Herbich’s website.  (Image credits: T. Herbich; via Colossal; submitted by @jchawner@__pj, and Larry B)

P.S. - FYFD now has a page listing all entries by topic, which should make it easier for everyone to find specific topics of interest. Check it out!

Corals may appear static, but near the surface the tiny hair-like cilia of these polyps are churning the water. Although it has been known for some time that corals have cilia, scientists had previously assumed they only moved water parallel to the coral’s surface. Instead recent flow visualizations show that the cilia’s movements generate larger-scale vortical flows near the coral that can help draw fresh nutrients in as well as flush waste away. This means that, instead of being reliant on currents and tides, corals can exert some control on their environment in order to get what they need. This insight into coral cilia may shed some light on the micro- and macroscopic flows generated by other cilia, like those in our lungs. For a similar example of seemingly-passive organisms generating their own flows, check out how mushrooms create air currents to spread their spores.  (Image credits: O. Shapiro et al. and MIT News; source video; h/t to Katie B)

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)