Russian scientist, Andrew Kolmogorov’s theory of turbulence has been widely accepted as a basic tenet of fluid dynamic theory since its introduction in 1941. New research out of the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) is causing physicists to rethink turbulence.
Physicists have widely interpreted Kolmogorov’s theory to mean that transitions between states of turbulence are smooth as large eddies dissipate energy to increasingly smaller eddies. Experimental data collected by Dr. Guenter Ahlers of UCSB offers evidence to the contrary.
Ahlers’ setup involved heating and rotating a liquid and then measuring the heat transport throughout the system. The heat transport data, characterized by the Nusselt number, indicated that the change in heat transport across the system was not smooth. Ahlers’ recognized sharp breaks in the data which, he hypothesizes, could prove that transitions in turbulence are sharp, and not smooth as widely believed. Though more research is needed to verify Ahlers’ findings, the potential impacts of his findings in the future study of turbulence are significant.