What do skyscrapers, tractor-trailers, and precision flow meters have in common?

Interesting post. I’m going to have to bone up on my vortex shedding for an idea I have. Also look into scrounging up a blower and building a wind tunnel.


Here’s a hint: Can you name this natural phenomenon of swirling vortices, pictured below in the clouds around the island of Guadalupe? (I’m looking at you aerospace engineers!)

Island Vortex

A Von Kármán Vortex Street, so named after famous engineer and physicist Theodore von Kármán for having the patience to do the hard math of determining the conditions under which these swirling patterns occur.

A vortex is the natural result of fluid turbulence within a certain range of flow velocities, specifically only within a certain range of Reynolds numbers. For example, the satellite photo above shows a vortex that only appears during the warmer half of the year.

Because vortexes are a function of Reynolds number, a dimensionless quantity, they can form on vastly different scales. From storms on Jupiter many times larger than the Earth, to turbulent liquid flowing through a tiny pipe.

I know, I know… that’s a neat tidbit of…

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