"Nearly perfect flows" by Wendy Zhang
December 8, 2010 - 10:00am
In school, we learned that fluid flow becomes simple in two limits. Over long lengthscales and at high speeds, inertia dominates and the motion can approach that of a perfect fluid with zero viscosity. On short lengthscales and at slow speeds, viscous dissipation is important. Fluid flows that correspond to the formation of a finite-time singularity in the continuum description involve both a vanishing characteristic lengthscale and a diverging velocity scale. These flows can therefore evolve into final limits that defy expectations derived from properties of their initial states. This talk focuses on 3 familiar processes that belong in this category: the formation of a splash after a liquid drop collides with a dry solid surface, the emergence of a highly-collimated sheet from the impact of a jet of densely-packed, dry grains, and the pinch-off of an underwater bubble. In all three cases, the motion is dominated by inertia but a small amount of dissipation is also present. Our works show that dissipation is important for the onset of splash, plays a minor role in the ejecta sheet formation after jet impact, but becomes irrelevant in the break-up of an underwater bubble. An important consequence of this evolution towards perfect-fluid flow is that deviations from cylindrical symmetry in the initial stages of pinch-off are not erased by the dynamics. Theory, simulation and experiment show detailed memories of initial imperfections remain encoded, eventually controlling the mode of break-up. In short, the final outcome is not controlled by a single universal singularity but instead displays an infinite variety.