Laminar flow (or streamline flow) occurs when a fluid flows in parallel layers, with no disruption between the layers. At low velocities the fluid tends to flow without lateral mixing, and adjacent layers slide past one another like playing cards. There are no cross currents perpendicular to the direction of flow, nor eddies or swirls of fluids. In laminar flow the motion of the particles of fluid is very orderly with all particles moving in straight lines parallel to the pipe walls. In fluid dynamics, laminar flow is a flow regime characterized by high momentum diffusion and low momentum convection.
When a fluid is flowing through a closed channel such as a pipe or between two flat plates, either of two types of flow may occur depending on the velocity of the fluid: laminar flow or turbulent flow. Laminar flow tends to occur at lower velocities, below the onset of turbulent flow. Turbulent flow is a less orderly flow regime that is characterised by eddies or small packets of fluid particles which result in lateral mixing. In nonscientific terms laminar flow is "smooth", while turbulent flow is "rough".
The type of flow occurring in a fluid in a channel is important in fluid dynamics problems. The dimensionless Reynolds number is an important parameter in the equations that describe whether flow conditions lead to laminar or turbulent flow. In the case of flow through a straight pipe with a circular cross-section, at a Reynolds number below the critical value of approximately 2040 fluid motion will ultimately be laminar, whereas at larger Reynolds number the flow can be turbulent. The Reynolds number delimiting laminar and turbulent flow depends on the particular flow geometry, and moreover, the transition from laminar flow to turbulence can be sensitive to disturbance levels and imperfections present in a given configuration.
When the Reynolds number is much less than 1, Creeping motion or Stokes flow occurs. This is an extreme case of laminar flow where viscous (friction) effects are much greater than inertial forces. The common application of laminar flow would be in the smooth flow of a viscous liquid through a tube or pipe. In that case, the velocity of flow varies from zero at the walls to a maximum along the centerline of the vessel. The flow profile of laminar flow in a tube can be calculated by dividing the flow into thin cylindrical elements and applying the viscous force to them.
For example, consider the flow of air over an aircraft wing. The boundary layer is a very thin sheet of air lying over the surface of the wing (and all other surfaces of the aircraft). Because air has viscosity, this layer of air tends to adhere to the wing. As the wing moves forward through the air, the boundary layer at first flows smoothly over the streamlined shape of the airfoil. Here the flow is called laminar and the boundary layer is a laminar layer. Prandtl applied the concept of the laminar boundary layer to airfoils in 1904.
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