Creating and Erasing Colorful Spirals in Corn Syrup Using the Principles of Laminar Flow Fluid Mechanics

Engineer Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day excitedly performed an experiment using the principles of the Taylor–Couette flow, which describes the steady flow of liquid created between two rotating cylinders. In his demonstration, Sandlin used lots of clear corn syrup in a manual laminar flow machine. Once the liquid started flowing, Sandlin added in three different colors to the clear liquid. As he rotated the handle of the container clockwise, the colors spun into numerous spirals.

Ultra Reverse Laminar Flow

When he reversed the turn of the handle, the spirals disappeared and the colors separated from each other and stood alone, albeit a bit worn.

You see all those striations, that happens because of the way we were mixing it. It looks like different layers sheared at different rates. So we had different viscosities at different times and so we get this striated pattern.

Sandlin also sees this experiment as a much larger metaphor for life.

…Okay, so this is an awesome fluid mechanics demonstration. But for me, there’s a metaphor to all this. Sometimes it feels like life is turbulent like everything is jumbled up and there’s no way you’re ever gonna get things set straight. But I believe, if you slowly and methodically think about the way you got yourself into the situation and start thinking about how to get out of that situation, and take slow, deliberate steps, hopefully, hopefully…one day, you will actually be able to get out of the situation. But, it requires patience and deliberate thinking to get it all straightened out.

Here’s some behind-the-scenes footage from this incredible experiment.