Clara Marika Velte

Young researcher wants to change theory of turbulence

Monday 27 Aug 18


Clara Marika Velte
Associate Professor
DTU Mechanical Engineering
+4545 25 43 42
ERC Starting Grants are awarded to talented early-career scientists from all over the world. Standards are high, and competition is fierce. 

Being considered for the grants takes inventiveness, a certain risk appetite, and groundbreaking research ideas.

The traditional physical theory of turbulence is not comprehensive enough. This has a bearing on the models used by, for example, wind turbine manufacturers, and which a new research project intends to optimize.

Clara Velte has just been awarded one of the prestigious ERC Starting Grants for promising early-career scientists by the European Research Council. She will use the funding to develop her existing ideas for a new physical theory of turbulence, which needs substantiating with data in the next few years.

"I think that we need to think very differently to the way we have been thinking so far, and in that way create the foundation for developing a new theory."

Since her time at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, where she did a Master’s degree in applied physics and an International Master’s degree in turbulence, she has been questioning the theory of turbulence as it stands.

“The theory dates back to the 1940s and is based on assumptions and simplified equations. There is therefore a lot of talk among researchers at the moment about needing a new understanding,” explains Clara Velte, now a member of staff at DTU Mechanical Engineering

Turbulence plays a role in many contexts, for example behind wind turbine blades, or when fuel is injected into a ship’s engine. Researchers and companies therefore have a shared interest in optimizing these processes based on a greater understanding of turbulence.

Clara Velte explains that turbulence can be likened to waves coming from many different directions and then meeting. Now imagine this in three dimensions, i.e. with waves coming from above and below as well.

“So far, models of turbulence have primarily been based on the measuring of small sections or a finite number of distinct points. But that is not sufficient. In order to understand the dynamics of turbulence, you have to take account of the interaction of the waves,” says Clara Velte.

Clara Velte is therefore going to start by collecting enormous volumes of data, thereby adding to our knowledge about turbulence. The data will be collected from a brand new laboratory built for this particular purpose—the only one of its kind. Here, at one end of a room, a nozzle, a large funnel, will be placed. When blown through the funnel, the air will be compressed so as to be able to pass through the small hole, creating turbulence in the jet of air which continues into the room.

Tiny particles which are already distributed in the air will then be illuminated by laser light and photographed by a large number of cameras. In this way, Clara Velte is hoping to be able to create a detailed picture of the turbulence in space and time, which is not only based on limited measurements.

Over the next three to five years, the aim is to be able to create a dynamic model of the turbulence in this flow, which—hopefully—will also be useful, for example, for companies. It will also give her an indication of whether her ideas for a new theory of turbulence hold water.

“My dream is to help resolve the question which has been described by the great American physicist Richard Feynman as the main unresolved problem in classical physics—the theory of turbulence. I think that we need to think very differently to the way we have been thinking so far, and in that way create the foundation for developing a new theory,” says Clara Velte.

The ERC Starting Grant totals EUR 1.5 million or just over EUR 1,5 million (DKK 11 million).

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23 AUGUST 2019