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Would someone out there please explain vortex tubes to me or tell me where I could find info on this. Please if you explain it go into detail. It is for me to decide on a science fair project.

I have no idea what a vortex "tube" is, but a vortex is what you get in a liquid when you pull the plug - circulating fluid basically. There is all sorts of fancy versions of this in different circumstances - for example the vortices of a superconductor are associated with circulating currents rather than a circulating liquid. Could you describe the "vortex tube" discussed in a little more detail? Or maybe somebody else knows what this is?

Arthur Smith

I presume you are referring to an instrument that I know as a Ranque-Hilsch tube, which "separates" an input compressed-air stream into hot and cold air streams, which then exit from different parts of the tube. A good place to start reading is in "The Flying Circus of Physics, with Answers" by Jearl Walker (1977), page 96 (Walker's explanation is on page 260). This book also offers a number of references, some of them perhaps a bit more technical than you are looking for. Another good and not-too-technical paper is "Laboratory Applications of the Vortex Tube" by Thomas Bruno, in the Journal of Chemical Education, Volume 64 (November 1987), p. 987-8. If you have a problem finding these resources send me a postal address via Newton mail or email ( and I will mail you photocopies. It is not a dead topic: there is a (pretty technical) article about it in last March's Journal of Physics D.


Maybe the student is asking about the quantized magnetic vortices which occur in high-temperature superconductors when a magnetic field is applied below the transition temperature...?


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