Simulating Turbulence

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Turbulent flows are complicated to simulate because of their many scales. The largest eddies in a flow, where energy is generated, can be of the order of meters, while the smallest scales, where energy is dissipated, are of the order of fractions of a millimeter. In Direct Numerical Simulation (DNS), the exact equations governing the flow are solved at all of those scales for every time step–requiring hundreds or thousands of computational hours on supercomputers to solve even a small domain’s worth of flow, as on the airplane wing in the video. Large Eddy Simulation (LES) is another technique that is less computationally expensive; it calculates the larger scales exactly and models the smaller ones. The video shows just how complicated the flow field can look. The red-orange curls seen in much of the flow are hairpin vortices, named for their shape, and commonly found in turbulent boundary layers.

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