Bacterial Turbulence

Cross-section of a Bacillus subtilis.

Conventional fluid dynamical wisdom posits that any flows at the microscale should be laminar. Tiny swimmers like microorganisms live in a world dominated by viscosity, therefore, there can be no turbulence. But experiments with bacterial colonies have shown that’s not entirely true. With enough micro-swimmers moving around, even these viscous, small-scale flows become turbulent.

That’s what is shown in Image 2, where tracer particles show the complex motion of fluid around a bacterial swarm. By tracking both the bacteria motion and the fluid motion, researchers were able to describe the flow using statistical methods similar to those used for conventional turbulence. The characteristics of this bacterial turbulence are not identical to larger-scale turbulence, but they are certainly more turbulent than laminar. (Image credits: bacterium – A. Weiner, bacterial turbulence – J. Dunkel et al.; research credit: J. Dunkel et al.; submitted by Jeff M.)

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