Pipe Flow Turbulence

Kyle Niemeyer

Turbulence is one of the great mysteries of modern science. It is also one of the most important, as most of the flows we’re interested in are turbulent. In some applications, such as industrial reactors, turbulence is desirable due to its mixing properties; in many others, we want to avoid turbulence due to the additional friction it causes.

The transition from laminar (smooth, predictable flow) to turbulent (chaotic, randomly fluctuating flow) is currently not well understood, although empirical information allows us to estimate the point at which many flows will make this transition. Flow through a pipe, however, is a rather important example that is not easily predicted. A paper recently published in Science (by a group we reported on in the past) has tried to identify just where the transition to turbulence occurs in pipes.

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