When Vortex Rings Collide

Intrigued by a grainy video from 1992, [Destin] from Smarter Every Day decided to jump in and fund his own research into the strange phenomenon of vortex ring collisions.

This hack started with a scientific publication and a video from back in 1992. The paper, written by Dr. T T Lim and TB Nichols, illustrated what happens when two vortex rings collide perfectly head-on. The rings collide and spread out forming a thin membrane. Then smaller rings form at a 90-degree angle to the original collision. It’s a beautiful effect when created with multicolored dye in water. But what causes it? There are theories about the fluid mechanics involved, but not much research has gone on since Dr. Lim’s paper.

[Destin] wanted to find out more about the effect, and get some video of it. Being the guy behind Smarter Every Day, he had the high-speed photography equipment and the funds to make that happen. Little did he know that this passion project would take four years to complete.

The initial prototype was built as part of a senior design project by a group of college students. While they did show the phenomenon, it was only barely visible, and not easily repeatable. [Destin] then got an engineer to design and build the experiment apparatus with him. It took numerous prototypes and changes, and years of development.

The final “vortex cannons” are driven by a computer controlled pneumatic cylinder which ensures both cannons get a perfect pulse of air. The air pushes a membrane which moves the dye and water out through an orifice. It’s a very finicky process, but when everything goes right, the result is a perfect collision. Just as in Dr. Lim’s video, the vortexes crash into each other, then form a ring on smaller vortexes.

Destin didn’t stop there. He’s made his data public, in the form of high-speed video – nearly 12 hours worth when played at normal speed. The hope is that researchers and engineers will now have enough information to better understand this phenomenon.

You can check out the videos after the break. If you’re a Smarter Every Day fan, we’ve covered [Destin’s] work in the past, including his backwards brain bike and his work with magnets.

Continue reading “When Vortex Rings Collide”