When a viscous fluid, such as a jar of honey, is stirred and then unstirred, the contents return to their starting points. However, according to research by a team of physicists headed by New York University’s David Pine, the particles of such fluids do not always return to their original locations. The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature.
It is a well-established consequence of the laws governing fluid motion that when a viscous fluid is stirred and then unstirred, all parts of the liquid return to their starting points. Pine, along with his colleagues at the Haverford College (PA), the California Institute of Technology, and the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, examined what happens to the particles of such fluids during this process.
The researchers studied the movement of tiny polymer beads suspended in a viscous fluid trapped between two concentric cylinders. The cylinders were held 2.5 millimeters apart and could rotate relative to each other. Based on their experiments, the researchers observed that for low concentrations of beads stirred a short distance, the mixing can be reversed so that the beads return to their starting positions. However, at higher concentrations, or with more stirring, mixing became irreversible. The appearance of this irreversible behavior is caused by multiple encounters between individual beads, they concluded.
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