Lancaster University

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Turbulence Breakthrough

06/27/2005 16:35:15

Lancaster University Physicists are set to have their work published in a leading academic journal after shedding new light on phenomena first investigated by Leonardo da Vinci.

Da Vinci is credited with the first studies of turbulence – the unstable flow of a liquid or gas - after observing eddies in a stream in the sixteenth century.

Turbulence is everywhere in the natural world from blood rushing through our veins to galaxy formation in outer space. It can be seen when we pour milk into a cup of tea or when oil flows through a pipeline. But despite its ubiquitous nature, turbulence, and what causes it, is only just beginning to be understood by scientists.

Hundreds of years after Da Vinci the Lancaster University Ultralow Temperature Physics Group has carried out experiments designed to develop a better understanding of the origins of turbulence.

By passing a copper grid backwards and forwards through a superfluid – a perfect liquid which has no friction – the Lancaster researchers were able to observe the patterns of turbulence left in the wake of the grid.

This work, which has been selected for inclusion in Physical Review Letters published by the American Physical Society, looks at the generation of turbulence, showing for the first time that at the point of creation micron-sized individual vortex rings form which then go on to coalesce and produce more random tangles.

The new research findings advance our understanding in this important but little understood field.