The Reynolds Number Illustrated

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The dimensionless Reynolds number is a key concept in fluid dynamics, allowing scientists to distinguish regimes of flow between differing geometries and even different fluids. This video gives a great primer on the subject by examining the physics of swimming for a sperm versus a sperm whale. The Reynolds number is essentially a ratio between inertial forces (driven by velocity and size) and viscous forces, and its value can indicate how important different effects are. Sperm and other microbes live at very small Reynolds numbers, meaning that viscosity dominates as the force they must overcome to move. For more on the low Reynolds number world, check out how brine shrimp swim and what happens if a microbe tries to flap its tail. (Hint: it goes nowhere, and this is why.) (Video credit: A. Bhatia/TED Ed; via Jennifer Ouellette)

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