Putting Chaos to Work

Chaos is usually something to avoid, but it might come in handy for mixing industrial composites as quickly and efficiently as possible

Bright ribbons of red and yellow twirl across a dark background, dividing and subdividing while weaving around one another like dancers in a cotillion. A single splotch of color stretches and shudders until it disintegrates into a Jackson Pollock-like spray of thousands of tiny dots. Animated cartoons? Modern art? No, it’s modern science.

With his co-workers in the chemical engineering department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Ottino studies how fluids mix. He injects dyes into clear fluids and watches as they are stirred and blended by the motion of his mixing apparatus. The colorful sequences of still photographs produced by these studies are, Ottino says, offering insights into the fundamentals of fluid mixing, a field that has previously had little theoretical grounding. In particular, he says, he has learned that the key to efficient mixing offluids lies in chaos-the ordered complexity that has been one of science’s “hot topics” over the past few years.

This article appeared in Putting Chaos to Work, Research News, 250, 226-227 (1990).

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