Vortex Rings

This experiment seeks to sharpen students’ ability to observe, document and draw conclusions from a complex and visually appealing phenomenon. The elements of setting up controls in an experiment are emphasized.

The intent is to shape the student’s ability to design an experiment and to study and understand chosen aspects of a real-world phenomenon. The basic procedure involves dropping dye into water, which in many instances results in the formation of a vortex ring. Instability in the ring builds and the ring breaks into smaller drops which form a new set of rings. This process may repeat itself several times to create a cascade of rings. Vortex motion is widespread in the air and water that surround us, and this experiment makes it visible.

Equipment Included:

  • Tall, clear, square containers

  • Thermometer

  • Food dye

  • Ruler

  • Eye dropper

  • Stopwatch

Student resources:

Vortex Rings Student Sheet

Teacher resources:

Vortex Rings Teacher Sheet