Vibrations from Vortices

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Vortex shedding frequently happens in the wakes of non-streamlined bodies as a result of flow around the obstacle. Newton’s third law states that forces come in equal and opposite pairs, meaning that the vortex shedding behind an obstacle is accompanied by a force on the obstacle. For a fixed cylinder, this is not always apparent, but for a pendulum, like the ones demonstrated in this video, this vortex-induced vibration causes significant motion. This same effect can make traffic lights and industrial chimneys sway. You’ve likely experienced it yourself as well, if while swimming you’ve ever spread your fingers underwater and spun in place. Try it sometime with your arm out and you’ll feel the vortices make your arm vibrate up and down as you spin.  (Video credit: Harvard Natural Sciences Lecture Demonstrations)

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