Are you staring into the eye of a hurricane or watching the spin of a simple desk toy? Part of the beauty of fluid dynamics is recognizing how similar they both are. This is high-speed footage of a toy known as a “Vortex Dome,” which contains a fluid filled with tiny mica particles that react to local forces and allow users to “see” the flow. Before the video begins, the toy has been spinning for long enough that the fluid inside rotates as if it were a solid body. Then an unseen hand sets the disk spinning in the opposite direction and we observe what happens.
Fluid at the outer edge of the toy has to immediately change direction due to friction with the wall. That change in momentum slowly passes from the wall inward as viscosity between one layer of fluid to the next passes that signal. This creates the rolls we see in the first animation. Initially, those rolls are smooth, but they quickly roughen as disturbances in them grow into full-blown turbulence. Meanwhile, viscosity continues to pass the change in rotation inward, ultimately swallowing the entire interior of the toy. Left spinning indefinitely, the disturbances will eventually quiet out and the entire fluid will spin as one. (Image and video credit: D. van Gils)