A UChicago physics team has created the first knotted vortex in a lab, untangling deep questions
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University of Chicago physicists have succeeding in creating a vortex knot—a feat akin to tying a smoke ring into a knot. Linked and knotted vortex loops have existed in theory for more than a century, but creating them in the laboratory had previously eluded scientists.
Vortex knots should, in principle, be persistent, stable phenomena. “The unexpected thing is that they’re not,” said Dustin Kleckner, a postdoctoral scientist at UChicago’s James Franck Institute. “They seem to break up in a particular way. They stretch themselves, which is a weird behavior.”
This behavior culminates in what the UChicago researchers call “reconnection events.” In these events, the loops elongate, begin to circulate in opposite directions, move toward each other and collide (the reconnection). Parts of the vortices then annihilate other parts, changing their configuration from linked or knotted into one that is unlinked or unknotted.
Kleckner and William Irvine, assistant professor in physics, report their findings on the creation and dynamics of vortex rings in Nature Physics, published online Sunday, March 3. Their work relates to deep questions in a variety of physics subfields, including turbulence, plasma physics, ordinary fluids and the more exotic superfluids. Knotted structures are thought to occur in all these phenomena but are difficult or impossible to observe.
In future research, Irvine and Kleckner hope to perform some of their experiments at larger scale to investigate whether size would lend greater stability to vortex rings. They also are investigating the fine-scale features of the vortices and whether “knottedness” is, or can be, conserved in fine-scale twisting of the vortex loops. “This is not something we presently know,” Kleckner said.
(via Vortex loops could untie knotty physics problems)