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Rotating Polygons

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Uploaded on Sep 6, 2006

We report a novel and spectacular instability of a fluid surface in a rotating system. In a flow driven by rotating the bottom plate of a partially filled, stationary cylindrical container, the shape of the free surface can spontaneously break the axial symmetry and assume the form of a polygon rotating rigidly with a speed different from that of the plate. With water, we have observed polygons with up to 6 corners. It has been known for many years that such flows are prone to symmetry breaking, but apparently the polygonal surface shapes have never been observed. The creation of rotating internal waves in a similar setup was observed for much lower rotation rates, where the free surface remains essentially flat [J. M. Lopez et al., J. Fluid Mech. 502, 99 (2004).]. We speculate that the instability is caused by the strong azimuthal shear due to the stationary walls and that it is triggered by minute wobbling of the rotating plate.

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