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Taming turbulence from afar

Research relates the roiling fluid motion near an object's surface to smoother flow farther away

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9:03am, July 9, 2010

With just a single measurement, a new model may deftly describe turbulent fluid flows near an airplane wing, ship hull or cloud, researchers report in the July 9 Science. If the long-sought model proves successful, it may lead to more efficient airplanes, better ways to curb pollution dispersal and more accurate weather forecasts.   

Fluid dynamicist Alexander Smits of Princeton University calls the new model “a very significant advance” that opens up a new way of thinking about chaotic, energy-sapping turbulence.

Turbulence is a problem that extends far beyond a bumpy plane ride. Fluid flowing past a body — whether it’s air blowing by a fuselage or water streaming across Michael Phelps’s swimming suit — contorts and twists as it bounces off an edge and interferes with incoming flows, creating highly chaotic patterns. Airliners squander up to half of their fuel just overcoming the turbulence within a foot

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