know now: spirals are ubiquitous. Let us see, where they are and how they work.

Vortexes in Nature

Visible Vortexes

The most famous vortexes in nature are natural tornado, hurricanes (in the northern hemisphere), and typhoons (southern hemisphere), which appear to be progressively intensive and determined every year in the hurricane season the headlines. Hurricane Katrina transformed New Orleans into a ghost town in 2005, devastated huge areas and paralysed an important part of the oil capacity in the Gulf of Mexico. There is an interesting website where scientists are documenting there works on the causes of this object ( There you can get DVD´s with wonderful pictures.

Less known are water vortexes on the surface of the water, so called twisters.

From the weather charts we know cyclones and anticyclones which determine the weather.

There are more gigantic vortexes (galaxies) with sometimes hundreds of thousands of light years diameter, consisting of billions of stars and we do not know what forces are holding the whole mess together.

Furthermore in nature there is a huge variety of living forms with vortexes in them, animals and plants created under the same rules. Last but not least everybody has certainly seen water in the bathtub, pouring tea, having a pee, in which case the water stream is not flat or round or straight, but spins, a circular structure exists giving the stream a surprising coherence.

More examples are going to be collected.

Invisible vortexes

There are lots of vortexes in water and air, as we will show.

From my point of view the most famous and most important vortex is the gulf stream. It is questionable how water can flow thousands of kilometres through the Atlantic Ocean without scattering in all directions? Here lies a wide field for experimental studies.

Animals and Plants

The problem of slowing down vortexes at air plane wings has been solved by birds in an impressive way. They fly tens of thousands of kilometres with little more than a few grams of grease. If one learns from the surface structure of the feathers and the wing movement, one can save huge amounts of kerosene. It is the same thing for swimming underwater. Inelastic hulks with propellers used by ships and submarines create vortexes to kill energy. Whales, an other water animals, are able to swim with no or little vortexes, perhaps they even use them for swimming.

For example the brown trout can stand motionless in a mountain stream and can swim at a high speed contrary to the water flow. This can be an attribute to the temperature and distribution of water. In case of pouring in hot water upriver, the brown trout is no able to hold the position and is flushed away downstream.

A most intriguing phenomenon is the fact, trout and salmon have the skill to jump several meters vertically in a waterfall. These fishes spawn in the headwaters of mountain streams plunging on their way downwards over dozens of meters.

Evidently flowing water over a ridge it spools in a greater vortex – every vortex consists of two of these – and in the inner one the fish will be carried away? In this area some experiments would be worth doing to clear up the laws of nature. Biology and physics has not come up with any idea re-acting to this topic so far.

There is a fowl similar to the guinea fowl – in German called Odinshühnchen- with an intriguing method of getting food in water. It generates a spiral at the bottom of the water with it´s webbed feet. From there the spiral lifts the substances from the bottom to the surface to feed the fowl.

Note: one can create a vortex in water lifting something from the ground level to the surface without significant energy input.

Many animals and plants create spiral or hyperbolic forms. Here is, for instance, a contemporary snail-shell and a fossil one.


Fig.: Snail-shell                                                       Fig.: Ammonite

The kudu antelope has specially formed horns which guided Viktor Schauberger to his invention the “Doppeldrallrohr”. The horn is hollow and has a tear like cross section. This encouraged experiments.


Fig.: Horn of a kudu antelope


Fig.: Cross section of kudu antelope horn

Vortexes in technology

A few examples how engineers use vortexes.

Useful spiral motion

Windhexe (Wind Witch) – sort of like a dust devil, from the German

A very good example for the use of spiral motion is shown to us by the American Frank Polifka, who has been built a sort of cyclone for years producing remarkable effects with an artificial tornado. It transforms the nastiest waste to dry powder only by compressed air. The whole performance of this machine you can see at


Fig.: Windhexe by Frank Polifka

Vacuum cleaner

1985 the British engineer James Dyson developed a Hoover without a bag cleaning the air only by whirling through a swirl chamber, by the way an old principle with a great future. The air to clean is sucked tangentially in a cylindrical or egg shaped box and is blown out through the front end. Interestingly the „heavy“ particles accumulate in the centre, and it is possible to separate them.


Back in 1929 G.J. Ranque, while doing the experiments with a cyclone, found a temperature distribution and got a patent for this. 1948 R. Hilsch constructed the so called Ranque-Hilsch-Vortex-Tube. It is a simple pipe with relatively small diameter, in which compressed air (up to 8 Bar) is blown in tangentially. Also in this case one can see a separation of heavy (cold) and light (warm) air to blow out in both front sides. If cleverly constructed one can have cold air from a central hole at one side and warm air from a circular slit on the other side. The difference in temperature can be up to 1oo degrees and it´s possible to get up to -58°F (-50°C)! Since there are no moving or other components necessarily to repair the tube can be installed at inaccessible places for cooling e.g. electronic circuits. Unfortunately, the efficiency factor is not very good and therefore the use for air separation or for cooling machines is not possible in the near future. A company producing Ranque-Hilsch-Tubes is vortec, or exair.

Wirbelbirne (spiral bulb)

In industry huge amounts of gases are cooled. Mostly this happens by compressing the gases,which warms up and one can cool it with simple air. Afterwards the gas is decompressed through air regulators and is cooled down. It is possible to improve the energetic balance of the process by using a Wirbelbirne instead of a simple air regulator. It works like a Ranque-Hilsch-Tube. It is possible to cool the warm gas stream created a second time efficiently.


Fig.: Wirbelbirne

Cyclone chamber

At the website one can order a construction manual for the device I would name “Wirbelkammer” or cyclone chamber. It is not completely useless 😉 but you can create a tornado in an uncomplicated way. One can create this natural phenomenon at any time and watch it. I can tell you it is a great experience. I have built it, and everybody who has seen it, was quite stunned, like me.

Separation by cyclone-like pressure vessels

Yet for decades devices using the Ranque-Hilsch-Tube principle (cyclones) have been used for the separation of solids and fluids from gases (vacuum cleaner). They are ranging from a few centimetres to some meters in length.

Interestingly the principle is rarely used, only a few devices are to be found on the market even though various applications are possible. A good one is the cleaning of water, today mostly accomplished by more expensive filtration.

Zentrofan Mill

This grain mill was built in the second half of the forties last century by the German engineer Wilhelm Schulte. He wanted to treat the grain in a organic manner, and he found it in a novel way. The corn is to be fed in the middle of the mill at this moment an air stream grabs the corn, whirls it around and brings it to the inside of the mill, a basalt lava millstone, rubbing at the millstone constantly and turns into micro-milled particles of flour. The continuously swirling air stream removes the flour out of the chamber. It generates an extraordinarily high quality of flour, unbeatable in it´s grain size.

These days the mill is produced in little units by Rainer Braunwarth in 88662 Überlingen (


Fig.: Zentrofan mill

Perturbing vortexes

Vortexes are created everywhere where things are being moved and decrease the aerodynamic efficiency

  • cars on the streets

  • aircraft in the air

  • ships and submarines in water

  • pipes and tubes of all sorts

At all corners and edges,also in pipes without turns, spirals are created to boost the energy consumption. In wind and water tunnels engineering work is directed to reduce the spirals by improving the shape (e.g. winglets on plane wings), but science and technology are not able to break through the frontiers. Ship propellers can only transverse limited power in the water because at high rotation speed the cavitation erodes the propellers.

The question remains what is the solution?

  • to avoid the perturbing vortexes (turbulences) or

  • to create purposeful whirls

In Wolfsburg the car factory town from Volkswagen AG one can see a little experimental set up to show how to visualize wind/water aerodynamics on a car model. You can pull the car models by a red ball through an aluminium powder containing fluid. Behind it whirls come into existence – more for an old-fashioned body and less at a modern one.

Automodell mit größerem Luftwiderstand

Fig.: More wind resistance

Automodell mit kleinerem Luftwiderstand

Fig.: Less wind resistance

Vortexes in art


I found this fountain in Locarno, a nice little village in Switzerland. It shows a remarkable clock like water fountain by skilful construction. In the thick part of the spring the water is shot in tangentially, creating spirals and than creating this wonderful fountain.


Fig.: Fountain in a spring in Locarno