The troublesome birth of hydrodynamic stability theory: Sommerfeld and the turbulence problem
Deutsches Museum, Forschungsinstitut, Museumsinsel 1, 80538
Published online: 24 April 2010
More than a hundred years ago William McFadden Orr and Arnold Sommerfeld conceived an approach to account for the transition from laminar to turbulent flow in terms of hydrodynamic stability theory. But the “turbulence problem”, as this challenge became notoriously famous, could not be solved by this method. By 1920, it was widely recognized as an outstanding riddle. Although famous theoretical physicists like Werner Heisenberg dedicated a considerable effort to this problem, the “Orr-Sommerfeld method” has never found the attention of historians of science. This article describes its early perception and development in Germany, and how the “turbulence problem” reached center stage after the First World war as a major challenge for theorists with different perspectives.
© EDP Sciences, Springer-Verlag 2010