A vortex of a different stripe

…or rather, a different configuration.

University of Chicago researchers Dustin Kleckner and William Irvine created a vortex that’s the first of its kind to be seen in a lab: A knotted vortex. Kleckner and Irvine used 3-D printed hydrofoils to create the vortex in water. Oxygen and hydrogen bubbles were released under the submerged knotted foil and allowed to gather to the foil’s surface. Then the foil was dropped quickly, creating the knotted vortex.

But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First of all, what’s so special about a knotted vortex? Well, unlike tornadoes, whirlpools, a simple cup of coffee that’s been stirred, the smoke rings Bilbo Baggins puffs from off his stoop at Bag End, or any other simple ring vortices, knotted vortices are somewhat hard to come by. Researchers know they exist — they’ve been seen in the sun’s plasma and are thought to be common on neutron stars. Unfortunately, those aren’t particularly friendly or convenient environments in which to study knotted vortices. By studying them in the lab, researchers hope to learn more about our sun’s activity, what happens on distant stars, and perhaps a bit more about physics in general.

If nothing else, the elegant experiment does make for some gorgeous zen-inducing videography.



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