Physics Colloquium - The Life of A Vortex Knot: Linking, Coiling, and Twisting Across Scales

Event Date: 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 4:00pm

Event Location: 

  • Broida 1640

Event Contact: 


William Irvine, University of Chicago


Can you take a vortex loop - akin to a smoke ring in air - and tie it into a knot or a link? The possibility of such knottiness in a fluid has fascinated physicists and mathematicians ever since Kelvin's 'vortex atom' hypothesis, in which the atoms of the periodic table were hypothesized to correspond to closed vortex loops of different knot types. More recently, the knottiness (Helicity) of a fluid has re-emerged as a conserved quantity in many idealized situations (such as Euler fluids and ideal plasmas), offering the potential for new fundamental insights. In the real physical counterparts to these systems progress has however been hindered by lack of accessible experimental systems. I will tell of how to make a vortex knot and link in water, in the wave function of a superfluid (on a computer) and of what happens thence. In particular, I will talk about how linking, coiling, and twisting interplay across scales.