Knotting Vortices

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Knots have long fascinated humans, appearing in art for thousands of years and generating entire fields of study. Until recently, however, the idea of a knotted fluid was purely theoretical. To knot fluids, researchers used 3D printing to create twisted hydrofoil shapes. When towed through water, fluid travels around the shape and spins up at the trailing edge, creating a knotted vortex ring. The knotted vortices were captured with 3D imaging, allowing scientists to observe how they evolve. So far the knots they’ve created have all been unstable, deforming until two vortex lines approach one another. Upon contact, the vortices disconnect and reconnect with one another, unraveling the knot. Intriguingly, these vortex reconnections seem remarkably similar to the vortex reconnections observed between quantized vortices in superfluids. (Video credit: D. Kleckner et al.)

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