PerspectiveApplied Physics

A Critical Point for Turbulence

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Science  08 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6039, pp. 165-166
DOI: 10.1126/science.1208261

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When a wind goes from a gentle breeze to a gusty storm, it changes from a state of smooth laminar flow to one that is complex and turbulent. One of the great triumphs of early 20th-century science was determining the exact conditions for the occurrence of the transition between these dynamical states for many types of flows (1). For most cases, a well-defined critical flow speed could be determined where laminar flow becomes susceptible to small perturbations and gives way to turbulence. One of nature's whims is that the technologically important case of pressure-driven flow through a cylindrical pipe does not fit into this classification (2). On page 192 of this issue, Avila et al. (3) show how a critical point for turbulent pipe flow may finally be identified.