Turbulence: The 90 Percent Solution

The Story:

Physicists have made a breakthrough in the study of turbulence, the haphazard secondary movements within a moving fluid. This breakthrough may have some astonishing implications, economic and even ecological.

The Science:

It has long been understood that if the fluid moving through a confined space (water through a pipe, for example) moves slowly, it will in general flow smoothly, with few contrary eddies complicating its direction. But beyond a certain threshold speed, the fluid will become quite turbulent, to a degree that hinders the task of getting the fluid from one place to another.

Human industrial civilization involves a lot of movement of fluids through a lot of pipes, and a breakthrough in controlling turbulence could be an enormous step forward in efficiencies and energy savings.

The Thing to Know: 

A German physicist, Bjorn Hof, and his team say they have tested interventions that might lessen the overall friction associated with turbulence by up to 90 percent.


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