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The history of turbulence: an elusive research field between science and engineering

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Project description

Turbulence is omnipresent, from the flow of water in pipes and ducts to rising smoke over a hot furnace (picture) or cosmic gas clouds.

In 1883, Osborne Reynolds used a simple experiment to demonstrate the transition from laminar to turbulent flow. After that, this phenomenon increasingly came into the focus of physicists, engineers and mathematicians. Since the 1920s, the “turbulence problem” has been regarded as the last unsolved problem of classical physics. Without a basic theory for turbulence, “pure research” relied on empirical methods. By the same token other facets of turbulence moved into the centre of research, so that the perception of the turbulence problem also changed. With the beginning of numerical fluid dynamics in the 1960s, a new gateway to turbulence showed up. The project aims to investigate the most important approaches to turbulence research, some of which go back several centuries, until the formation of a separate “scientific community” in the last third of the 20th century.


  • Pipe flow: a gateway to turbulence. In: Archive for History of Exact Sciences. October 2020. Online first: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00407-020-00263-y
  • The Turbulence Problem -- A Persistent Riddle in Historical Perspective. SpringerBriefs in History of Science and Technology. 2019
  • Turbulence Research in the 1920s and 1930s between Mathematics, Physics, and Engineering. In: Science in Context, 31:3, 2018, S. 381-404.
  • Weizsäckers Kosmogonie, Farm Hall und die Entstehung der modernen Turbulenztheorie. In: Acta Historica Leopoldina, 63, 2014, S. 101-116.
  • Ein Leben für die Turbulenz. In: Spektrum der Wissenschaft, 2013, 44-52 (mit Eberhard Bodenschatz).
  • Turbulence before Marseille 1961. In: Journal of Turbulence, 13:44, 2012, S. 1-25.
  • Prandtl and the Göttingen school. In: Peter A. Davidson, Yukio Kaneda, Keith Moffatt, Katepalli R. Sreenivasan, eds., A Voyage Through Turbulence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, S. 40-100. (mit Eberhard Bodenschatz)
  • The troublesome birth of hydrodynamic stability theory: Sommerfeld and the turbulence problem. In: European Physical Journal History, 35:1, 2010, S. 29-51.
  • Turbulenz – ein problemhistorischer Abriss. In: N. T. M. 16 (2008) 39–71.

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