PerspectiveApplied Physics

Controlling Turbulence

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Science  19 Mar 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5972, pp. 1462-1463
DOI: 10.1126/science.1187607

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Summary

Pipes feature strongly in the infrastructure of everyday life, from domestic water pipes to oil and natural gas conduits. A primary consequence of the onset of turbulence in the fluid flowing through the pipes is the dramatically increased power required to pump stuff at the same rate. Thus, the incentives to understand and control the transition process are strong. However, more than 100 years after Osborne Reynolds's seminal experiments on the transition of flow through a pipe from a laminar (smooth) to a turbulent state, the exact physical mechanism that drives this phenomenon still vexes the fluid mechanics community. On page 1491 of this issue, Hof et al. (1) describe a mechanism that feeds energy into a turbulent flow system, allowing the onset of the transition to be manipulated and even the suppression of the turbulence.