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Experiment 5: Critical Reynolds Number in Pipe Flow

The objective of this experiment is to find the critical Reynolds number for the transition range that exits in pipe
The Reynolds number is defined as a dimensionless ratio of inertia forces to viscous forces and is used in identifying
certain characteristics of fluid flow. The Reynolds number can be used to determine whether the flow in a pipe is laminar or
turbulent. A Reynolds number of 2,100 is usually accepted as the transitional value between laminar and turbulent flow
regimes. However, the transition between flow regimes exist over a range of Reynolds numbers. The critical Reynolds
number is the Reynolds number that exists anywhere in the transition region between laminar and turbulent flow. Given the
tube size, the Reynolds number can be calculated with

Re 


Where V is the average velocity in the pipe, D is the hydraulic diameter, and v is the kinematic viscosity of the liquid. In this
experiment, a square pipe and two different sized circular pipes will be used. For a circular pipe flowing full, the hydraulic
diameter equals the inside diameter of the pipe. For a square pipe, the hydraulic diameter will equal the length of one side.
This can be show with the equation


Wetted Perimeter


Figure 1: The critical Reynolds number determination apparatus.

Fill the tank with water and remove any air bubbles in the pipes. Record the water temperature in the tank.
Establish laminar flow in one of the pipes by starting a very low flow rate of water and dye. Use the valve at point B
in Figure 1 to adjust the dye flow rate. A seamless, threadlike dye pattern should be achieved in the pipe at a distance


that is about ten hydraulic diameter lengths away from the pipe entrance.
Once a laminar flow is achieved, open the rotameter valve, at point A in Figure 1, slightly to increase the water flow


Increase the water flow rate and observe the dye pattern until the pattern changes by still appears laminar. This is the


beginning of transition. Record this flow rate from the rotameter.
Continue increasing the flow rate and observing the dye pattern. Eventually, the dye will completely mix with the


water. The flow will be fully turbulent once this point has been reached. Again, record the flow rate at this point.
Repeat steps 2-5 for the other two pipes. Note to keep the water level in the tank at a constant height throughout the
experiment. Once complete, close the valve at point B to stop the dye flow and drain the tank.


Table 1: Experimental Constants
Pipe Type

Hydraulic Diameter

Pipe Area





This would have affected our judgment in determining whether if the flow was turbulent or still laminar.5% Discussion and Conclusion The target critical Reynolds number for each pipe is 2100. The observation of the flowing dye is the key element in determining turbulent flow within the pipes. forces.48 0.0053 Kinematic Viscosity of Water at 55°F (ft2/s) 1. the Reynolds number for the large and small circular pipes is close to the accepted value of 2100. It is the dimensionless ratio of inertia forces to viscous 3.27E-05 Table 2: Recorded Data Pipe Type Beginning of Transition Flow Rate (gal/min) Critical Flow Rate (gal/min) 0.64 0. 4. while performing the experiment. the Reynolds number calculated for the square pipe has more error than the other two pipes. A rounded pipe entrance would also reduce the error in this lab because it would reduce turbulence caused by square pipe entrance.50 Large Circular Small Circular Square Pipe Type Table 3: Calculated Reynolds Numbers Beginning of Transition Reynolds Critical Reynolds Number Number Large Circular Small Circular Square Critical Re Percent Error 1722 2207 5.1% 1830 966 2584 1207 23. However. This method cannot work for opaque liquids. Also. the beginning of the transition from laminar to turbulent pipe flow starts around a Reynolds number of 1700 and ends at the accepted critical Reynolds number of 2100. . Another source of error could have originated from moving the table that the apparatus is built on. However. The error in this experiment could be reduced if the water in the tank is clean and all air is correctly removed from the system. From Table 3. From Table 3 column 3. The Reynolds number is not dependent on tube size or shape.0% 42.82 0.40 0. This error could have originated from an air bubble that was trapped inside of the pipe’s entrance to the tank. This sediment could have caused turbulence in all three pipes which would have affected the average velocity of the flowing water. Also. liquids. the pipe entrance for each pipe is square and not round.073 0. Questions 1. a lot of sediment was noticed in the water. Another method of determining if the gas flow is turbulent would have to be used. This ultimately would affect the calculated Reynolds numbers for each pipe.34 0. then the dye flowing in the pipe would appear to be turbulent for some time. gases cannot be dyed like 2. If the table is moved slightly. A similar procedure can be followed for testing Reynolds number for gases.Circular Square 0.