The Life and Death of Turbulence

By Nigel Goldenfeld

Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL

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Turbulence is the last great unsolved problem of classical physics. But there is no consensus on what it would mean to actually solve this problem. In this colloquium, I propose that turbulence is most fruitfully regarded as a problem in non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, and will show that this perspective explains turbulent drag behavior measured over 80 years, and makes predictions that have been experimentally tested in 2D turbulent soap films. I will also explain how this perspective is useful in understanding the laminar-turbulence transition, establishing it as a non-equilibrium phase transition whose critical behavior has been predicted and tested experimentally. This work connects transitional turbulence with statistical mechanics and renormalization group theory, high energy hadron scattering, the statistics off extreme events, and even population biology.


Nigel Goldenfeld Nigel Goldenfeld holds a Swanlund Endowed Chair and is a Center for Advanced Study Professor in Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He is the Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute for Universal Biology at UIUC, and leads the Biocomplexity Group at the University's Institute for Genomic Biology. Nigel received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge (U.K.) in 1982, and for the years 1982-1985 was a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of California at Santa Barbara. Nigel has been an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow, a University Scholar of the University of Illinois, a recipient of the Xerox Award for research, and a recipient of the A. Nordsieck award for excellence in graduate teaching. In 1996, Nigel co-founded NumeriX, a company that specializes in high-performance software for the derivatives marketplace. He serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and Physical Biology. Nigel is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

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  • Nigel Goldenfeld (2019), "The Life and Death of Turbulence,"

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