Soap Films Reveal Whirling Worlds of Turbulence

Science  04 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5420, pp. 1609-1610
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5420.1609

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New techniques for studying "soap film tunnels" are giving researchers a glimpse into the surprising world of two-dimensional (2D) turbulence, which, scientists believe, arises in nature when moving liquids or gases are confined to flat or curved surfaces, such as in cyclones and other large-scale wind flows in the atmospheres of planets. Although some of the swirling 2D patterns in these systems look like cross sections of 3D vortices, 2D turbulence is governed by radically different principles of physics. Some of the secrets of 2D turbulence that are beginning to be revealed by soap film tunnels include how its vortices evolve and suddenly swap energy.