Nigel Goldenfeld co-leads $4-million research initiative tackling the 'last great problem of classical physics'

By Siv Schwink for Illinois Physics
October 22, 2019

he rich complexity of turbulence—with its wide range of length and time scales—poses a major challenge to the development of predictive models based on fluid dynamics. Now, four leading physicists will co-lead an international effort to develop a statistical theory of turbulence. If successful, a statistical theory of turbulence would have broad applications, including in aeronautics, geophysics and astrophysics, medicine, and in the efficient transport of fluids through pipelines.


Funded by the Simons Foundation, the research project titled “Revisiting the Turbulence Problem Using Statistical Mechanics” will bring together an international team from the US, UK, France, Austria, and Israel to apply novel techniques in non-equilibrium statistical physics to the unresolved problem. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Physics Professor Nigel Goldenfeld is a lead PI on the project.

“This is the last great problem from classical physics,” notes Goldenfeld. “It has eluded a theoretical description since it was first scientifically studied in the 18th century. Turbulence has major significance for everyday life. For example, the speed of every flowing river is determined by turbulence. The drag experienced by an airplane or car is determined by turbulence. If we could understand how to control this, it could save billions of dollars every year in fuel costs.”