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Destabilizing turbulence in pipe flow


Turbulence is the major cause of friction losses in transport processes and it is responsible for a drastic drag increase in flows over bounding surfaces. While much effort is invested into developing ways to control and reduce turbulence intensities1,2,3, so far no methods exist to altogether eliminate turbulence if velocities are sufficiently large. We demonstrate for pipe flow that appropriate distortions to the velocity profile lead to a complete collapse of turbulence and subsequently friction losses are reduced by as much as 90%. Counterintuitively, the return to laminar motion is accomplished by initially increasing turbulence intensities or by transiently amplifying wall shear. Since neither the Reynolds number nor the shear stresses decrease (the latter often increase), these measures are not indicative of turbulence collapse. Instead, an amplification mechanism4,5 measuring the interaction between eddies and the mean shear is found to set a threshold below which turbulence is suppressed beyond recovery.

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Fig. 1: Perturbing turbulence.
Fig. 2: Laminarization mechanisms.
Fig. 3: Drag reduction.

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We acknowledge the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement 306589, the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 737549) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Project No. FOR 1182) for financial support. We thank our technician P. Maier for providing highly valuable ideas and greatly supporting us in all technical aspects. We thank M. Schaner for technical drawings, construction and design. We thank M. Schwegel for a Matlab code to post-process experimental data.

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Authors and Affiliations



J.K. and B.H. designed the experiments. J.K. and D.S. carried out the experiments and post-processed the data. M.R. carried out the rotor experiments. J.K., D.S. and B.H. analysed the experimental results. J.K. and B.H. supervised the experimental work. B.S. and N.B.B. performed the computer simulations of the Navier–Stokes equations. B.S., M.A. and N.B.B. analysed the numerical results. M.A., A.P.W. and B.H. supervised the computer simulations. D.S., A.P.W., M.A. and B.S. performed the theoretical analysis. J.K., B.S., D.S., M.A. and B.H. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Jakob Kühnen or Björn Hof.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Destabilizing turbulence in pipe flow.


Supplementary Movie

Relaminarization by vigorously stirring a turbulent pipe flow with four rotors.

Supplementary Movie

Relaminarization by impulsive movement of a pipe segment.

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Kühnen, J., Song, B., Scarselli, D. et al. Destabilizing turbulence in pipe flow. Nature Phys 14, 386–390 (2018).

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