Phase Transition to Turbulence in Spatially Extended Shear Flows

Phys Rev Lett. 2022 Jan 7;128(1):014502. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.128.014502.


Directed percolation (DP) has recently emerged as a possible solution to the century old puzzle surrounding the transition to turbulence. Multiple model studies reported DP exponents, however, experimental evidence is limited since the largest possible observation times are orders of magnitude shorter than the flows' characteristic timescales. An exception is cylindrical Couette flow where the limit is not temporal, but rather the realizable system size. We present experiments in a Couette setup of unprecedented azimuthal and axial aspect ratios. Approaching the critical point to within less than 0.1% we determine five critical exponents, all of which are in excellent agreement with the 2+1D DP universality class. The complex dynamics encountered at the onset of turbulence can hence be fully rationalized within the framework of statistical mechanics.