Like children who become fixated on one particular detail of their environment, scientists Dustin Kleckner and William Irvine have been staring at vortexes. They’ve been staring with cameras, tanks of water and air pumps, trying to understand how these loops, like smoke rings or puffs of air exerted by dolphins, behave exactly – how they twirl, break apart and reconnect. And once you watch videos of their experiments, you’ll be entranced, too.
A vortex loop is a particular shape that matter may flow in or express itself with. The plasma that roils on the surface of the sun is said to do so in the shape of a vortex loop. As mentioned, smoke rings and dolphin puffs are also considered vortex loops. And the strange thing is that, while scientists dating back to Lord Kelvin have been studying this phenomena, not until now has anyone been able to actually create this shape in a laboratory setting. So, despite countless theories about vortex loops, their real physical properties have yet to be recorded.
The issue for creating vortex loops in a lab has stemmed from the inability to manufacture complex shapes with which to evince these ring formations. With 3D printing, however, Irvine and Kleckner have been able to print hydrofoils complex enough to create sophisticated loops. In a large tank, filled with water, Irvine and Kleckner have been thrusting air bubbles through these various shapes and studying the behavior of the rings produced, recording them from all angles.
Now, because they can create vortexes in their lab at University of Chicago, the pair can go about demonstrating whether or not theories put forth previously hold any weight and what the physics behind these beautiful rings really is. The findings so far have shown that when vortex loops are created, they stretch apart to the point that they break, but then reconnect at a later point, which they are calling “reconnection events”. Kleckner and Irvine are theorizing that it’s possible that the rings never quite break apart completely and are still connected at a point, which can’t be seen by the human eye. This, however, is something they’re still working on.
Source: University of Chicago