Playing with Venturi tubes

A Venturi tube is one of the things one hears about in hydrodynamics class all the time, but one never gets to see them for real. And even though I just said on Friday that the thing that I found most fascinating in the aerodynamics collection I got to borrow recently was to see how the flow reversed downstream of a paddle I might have to take that back, because the hands-down most exciting thing was to play with a Venturi tube!

So what is all the fuss about? This is what a Venturi tube looks like:

Venturi tube in the no-flow state

Basically, it is a tube, open at both ends, that gets thinner in the middle and wider again. All the rest you see in the picture is props: The mouth of the fan in the top right, and then three U-tubes filled with dyed water below the Venturi tube.

The Venturi tube is so famous because it nicely demonstrates the Venturi effect, namely the reduction in pressure that occurs when a flow is accelerated. In the case of the Venturi tube, the flow is accelerated in the thin section of the tube, where – for continuity reasons – it has to go faster than in the wider sections. So what happens when we turn on the fan?

Venturi tube. Pressure decreases in the thin section of the tube, visible by the red water being “sucked up” in the middle U-tube

Yep! The levels in the three U-tubes change. And most importantly, the pressure for the middle U-tube drops, as demonstrated by the red water being “sucked up” on the side of the U-tube that is connected to the Venturi tube.

Watch the movie below to see this in action:

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