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Dave Schaeffer : Finite-length effects in Taylor-Couette flow



Taylor-Couette flow provides one of the pre-eminent examples of bifurcation in fluid dynamics. This phrase refers to the flow between concentric rotating cylinders. If the rotation speed is sufficiently rapid, the primary rotary flow around the axis becomes unstable, leading to a steady secondary flow in approximately periodic cells. Assuming infinite cylinders and exact periodicity in his theory, Taylor obtained remarkable agreement with experiment for the onset of instability, agreement that remains unsurpassed in fluid mechanics to this day. This talk is concerned with incorporating the effect of finite-length cylinders into the theory, an issue whose importance was emphasized by Benjamin. Numerous experiments and simulations of the Navier Stokes equations all support to the following, seemingly paradoxical, observations: No matter how long the apparatus, finite-length effects greatly perturb many of the bifurcating flows but, provided the cylinders are long, hardly perturb others. We understand this paradox as a result of symmetry breaking. The relevant symmetry, which is only approximate, is a symmetry between two normal-mode flows with large, and nearly equal, numbers of cells.

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