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Beautiful collision of Vortex Rings: from Clairvoyance to Superstrings

Head-on Collision of Colored Vortex Rings”. A humble title for an utterly amazing video, via the Fluid Mechanics Group at the National University of Singapore. And there’s more in the title card!

“Note the formation of small rings from the cross-linking of the wavy vortex filaments of the larger rings”.

Indeed. The video brings to memory that long before strings became fashionable  in modern physics, an early model of atoms proposed by William Thomson, better known as Lord Kelvin, suggested they were vortex rings in the ether.

As Michael Fowler wonders, Kelvin was probably inspired in his revolutionary idea by a demonstration akin to this:

That’s a simulation by Paul Nylander, but vortex rings can do that trick, being remarkably stable. Nylander Paul Nathan also offers this visualization that helps to see what’s actually happening (click on the image for the video):


Unfortunately, vortexes are not that stable in many forms other than rings, and thus can’t really account for a good model of atoms. More than a good analogy (“atoms are strings!”, “atoms are smoke rings!”, “atoms are little solar systems!”), what we really need in science, and particularly in physics, are good mathematical tools, and fluid dynamics didn’t offer much advance in predicting the behavior of particles.

Kelvin’s inspired idea did lead to much advance in fluid dynamics physics and even mathematics, particularly the knot theory from topology.

Interestingly, occultists at the end of 19th century also liked Kelvin’s idea. Oh, pseudoscience, always trailing after real science all the while claiming it’s beyond this allegedly obsolete establishment. Too bad there’s evidence those occultists also liked to copy data from real science for their alleged mystical visions.

J. Michael McBride has the whole story of the “Direct Observation of Atoms through Clairvoyance”.


But let’s not be too harsh, at least with good Lord Kelvin, the one who doubted the airplane was possible. The idea of vortex atoms was indeed revolutionary, it does find a distant correlation with modern string theories, and it may not have been such a bad idea after all.

Such is science, and it’s possible string theories may come even closer to Kelvin’s original proposal.

Sure thing is, vortex rings are utterly cool.

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Posted in Fortean,Science | 3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. Boing Boing March 9th, 2010 12:52 am

    Beautiful collision of two colored smoke rings…

    A red smoke ring and a blue smoke ring collide, with spectacular results. (Via Forgetomori)……

  2. Paul Nathan March 14th, 2010 3:41 am

    Just to clarify, the YouTube video of the leapfrogging vortices in 2D (by clicking the image below the second embedded video) is by Paul Nathan, not Paul Nylander ;-))

  3. Mori March 14th, 2010 11:25 am

    Ooops, sorry, just corrected it!

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