Category: Rayleigh-Benard convection

Looking at convective cells, it’s easy to think that they are still and unmoving. But when you add particles, their inner flow becomes obvious. Warm, light fluid moves up through the center of each cell, skims along the surface, and then sinks at the edges of the cell after losing its heat at the cooling surface. Below, the fluid moves back toward the cell center, getting warmer as it’s heated by the lower surface. Once it reaches the middle of the cell, it’s light enough to rise up and start the process again. Convective cells like these are typical in cooking – watch for them forming in your miso soup or hot chocolate – but they can also be found on the sun and even in situations without heating! (Image credit: G. Kelemen, source)