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  • Define laminar flow and turbulent flow.
  • Explain what viscosity is.
  • Calculate flow and resistance with Poiseuille’s law.
  • Explain how pressure drops due to resistance.

Laminar flow and viscosity

When you pour yourself a glass of juice, the liquid flows freely and quickly. But when you pour syrup on your pancakes, that liquid flows slowly and sticks to the pitcher. The difference is fluid friction, both within the fluid itself and between the fluid and its surroundings. We call this property of fluids viscosity . Juice has low viscosity, whereas syrup has high viscosity. In the previous sections we have considered ideal fluids with little or no viscosity. In this section, we will investigate what factors, including viscosity, affect the rate of fluid flow.

The precise definition of viscosity is based on laminar , or nonturbulent, flow. Before we can define viscosity, then, we need to define laminar flow and turbulent flow. [link] shows both types of flow. Laminar flow is characterized by the smooth flow of the fluid in layers that do not mix. Turbulent flow, or turbulence    , is characterized by eddies and swirls that mix layers of fluid together.

Photograph of smoke rising smoothly for a while and then beginning to form swirls and eddies.
Smoke rises smoothly for a while and then begins to form swirls and eddies. The smooth flow is called laminar flow, whereas the swirls and eddies typify turbulent flow. If you watch the smoke (being careful not to breathe on it), you will notice that it rises more rapidly when flowing smoothly than after it becomes turbulent, implying that turbulence poses more resistance to flow. (credit: Creativity103)

[link] shows schematically how laminar and turbulent flow differ. Layers flow without mixing when flow is laminar. When there is turbulence, the layers mix, and there are significant velocities in directions other than the overall direction of flow. The lines that are shown in many illustrations are the paths followed by small volumes of fluids. These are called streamlines . Streamlines are smooth and continuous when flow is laminar, but break up and mix when flow is turbulent. Turbulence has two main causes. First, any obstruction or sharp corner, such as in a faucet, creates turbulence by imparting velocities perpendicular to the flow. Second, high speeds cause turbulence. The drag both between adjacent layers of fluid and between the fluid and its surroundings forms swirls and eddies, if the speed is great enough. We shall concentrate on laminar flow for the remainder of this section, leaving certain aspects of turbulence for later sections.

Part a of the figure shows a laminar flow on a fixed smooth surface. The different layers of the liquid are shown as different colored bands along the horizontal surface. The friction is shown to act all along the line separating two layers. The direction of flow of the fluid is toward right and the velocity is shown as v b for layers at the bottom and v t for layers on top. Part b of the figure shows turbulent flow on a surface with some obstruction. The fluid directions are horizontal on smooth path and irregular near the area of the obstruction. The velocity is v on top as well as at the bottom of the fluid.
(a) Laminar flow occurs in layers without mixing. Notice that viscosity causes drag between layers as well as with the fixed surface. (b) An obstruction in the vessel produces turbulence. Turbulent flow mixes the fluid. There is more interaction, greater heating, and more resistance than in laminar flow.

Making connections: take-home experiment: go down to the river

Try dropping simultaneously two sticks into a flowing river, one near the edge of the river and one near the middle. Which one travels faster? Why?

Questions & Answers

Physics is a physical science that deals with the study of matter in relation to energy
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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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