When Chaos is Not So Chaotic

In industry, tanks are often agitated or stirred to mix different elements. The goal is to create a laminar but chaotic flow field throughout the mixture. Introducing particles to such a system reveals that things are not quite as chaotic as they might seem. The photographs above show the pathlines of various large, glowing particles initially poured into the tank from above. Over time, the particles scatter off of structures in the mixed sections of the tank and end up trapped in vortex tubes that form above and below the agitator. Once trapped in the vortex tube, the particles follow helical paths inside the tube, creating patterns like those seen in the lower two photos. (Image and research credit: S. Wang et al., 1, 2, 3)

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