A Turbulent Skeleton

A new Air Force Office of Scientific Research-funded effort may lead to the ability to predict air turbulence. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, led by mathematical engineering professor George Haller and graduate student Manikandan Mathur, have dubbed their discovery the Lagrangian skeleton of turbulence because the work of 19th century mathematician Joseph Lagrange was its inspiration. Their work centers on detecting motions of particles (pollutants and ice crystals in the stratosphere) pulled along in the air pattern structure underlying turbulence and translating that data into usable forecasts. Being able to forecast such turbulence has import for manned and unmanned military aircraft, high-altitude Air Force operations, and on-board laser weapons, as well as potentially homeland security to locate the source of a dispersed chemical or radioactive pollution. According to Haller, “Locating the Lagrangian skeleton of air turbulence will enable us to trace the source of contamination.” (AFOSR report by Maria Callier)