Transition to Turbulence

Smoke introduced into the boundary layer of a cone rotating in a stream highlights the transition from laminar to turbulent flow. On the left side of the picture, the boundary layer is uniform and steady, i.e. laminar, until environmental disturbances cause the formation of spiral vortices. These vortices remain stable until further growing disturbances cause them to develop a lacy structure, which soon breaks down into fully turbulent flow. Understanding the underlying physics of these disturbances and their growth is part of the field of stability and transition in fluid mechanics. (Photo credit: R. Kobayashi, Y. Kohama, and M. Kurosawa; taken from Van Dyke’s An Album of Fluid Motion)

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