Convection Cells

This magnified photo shows Rayleigh-Benard convection cells in silicone oil. This buoyancy-driven convection occurs when a fluid is heated from below and cooled above. Inside the cells, fluid rises through the center and sinks along the edges; this motion is made apparent here thanks to aluminum flakes in the oil. The distinctive hexagonal shape of the cells is actually due to surface tension. Here, the upper surface of the fluid is left open to the air and this free surface boundary condition causes hexagonal shapes to form. If the fluid were instead covered by a solid surface, the convection cells that form would be shaped differently. (Image credit: M. Velarde et al.; via Van Dyke’s An Album of Fluid Motion)


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