In Chapter 1 of *Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology*, Russ Hobbie and I discuss Poiseuille flow: the flow of a viscous fluid in a pipe. Consider laminar flow of a fluid, having viscosity *η*, through a long pipe with radius *R* and length *Δx*. The flow is driven by a pressure difference *Δp* across its ends.

The velocity of the fluid in the pipe is

where *r* is the distance from the center of the pipe. Figure 1.26 in includes a plot of the velocity profile, which is a parabola: large at the center of the pipe ( *r* = 0) and zero at the wall ( *r* = *R*) because of the no-slip boundary condition.

In most mechanics problems, not only is the velocity important but also the displacement. Yet, somehow until recently I never stopped to consider what the displacement of the fluid looks like during Poiseuille flow. Let’s say that at time *t* = 0 you somehow mark a thin layer of the fluid uniformly across the pipe’s cross section (the light blue line on the left in the figure below). Perhaps you do this by injecting dye or using magnetic resonance imaging to tag the spins. How does the fluid move?

At time *t* = *Δt* the displacement also forms a parabola, with the fluid at the center moving a ways down the pipe to the right and the fluid at the wall not moving at all. As time marches on, the fluid keeps flowing down the pipe, with the parabola getting stretched longer and longer. Eventually, the marked fluid will extend the entire length of the pipe.

Poiseuille flow is laminar, meaning the fluid moves smoothly along streamlines. Laminar flow is typical of fluid motion when viscosity dominates so the Reynolds number is small. Now let’s consider how the marked or tagged fluid gets mixed with the normal fluid. In laminar flow, there is no turbulent mixing, because there are no eddies to stir the fluid. In fact, there is no component of the fluid velocity in the radial direction at all. There is no mixing, except by diffusion.

Diffusion is discussed in Chapter 4 of *IPMB*. It is the random movement of particles from a region of higher concentration to a region of lower concentration. Let’s consider what would happen to the marked fluid if flow was turned off (for instance, if we set *Δp* = 0) and only diffusion occurs. The originally narrow light blue band would no longer drift downstream but it would spread with time, rapidly at first and then more slowly later. In reality the concentration of marked fluid would change continuously in a Gaussian-like way, with a higher concentration at the center and gradually lower concentration in the periphery, but drawing that picture would be difficult, so I’ll settle for showing a uniform band getting wider in time.

Now, what happens if drift and diffusion happen together? You get something like this:

The parabola stretched out along the pipe is still there, but its gets wider and wider with time because of diffusion.

What happens as even more time goes by? Eventually the marked fluid will have enough time to diffuse radially across the entire cross section of the pipe. If we look a ways downstream, the situation will be something like shown below.

The parabola disappears as the marked fluid becomes locally smeared out. Now, here’s the interesting thing: The spreading of the marked fluid is greater than you would expect from pure diffusion. It’s as if Poiseuille flow increased the diffusion. This effect is called Taylor diffusion: an effective diffusion on a large scale arising from Poiseuille flow on a small scale. The flow stretches that parabola axially and then diffusion spreads the marked fluid radially. This phenomenon is named after British physicist Geoffrey Ingram Taylor (1886–1975). Although the derivation is a bit too difficult for a blog post, you can show (see the Widipedia article about Taylor diffusion) that the long-time, large-scale behavior is a combination of drift plus diffusion with an effective diffusion constant, , given by

where *v* is the mean flow speed (equal to one half the flow speed at the center of the tube). As the flow goes to zero ( *v* = 0) the effective diffusion constant goes to = *D* and Taylor diffusion disappears; it’s just plain old diffusion. If the flow speed is large, then is larger than *D* by a factor of *R*2*v* 2/48 *D*2. The quantity *Rv*/ *D* is the Péclet number (see Homework Problem 43 in Chapter 4 of *IPMB*), which is a dimensionless ratio of transport by convection to transport by diffusion. Taylor diffusion is particularly important when the Péclet number is large, meaning the drift caused by Poiseuille flow is greater than the spreading caused by diffusion. This enhanced diffusion can be important in some applications. For instance, if you are trying to mix two liquids using microfluidics, you would ordinarily have to wait a long time for diffusion to do its thing. Taylor diffusion can speed that mixing along.

You can call this phenomenon “Taylor diffusion” if you want. Some people use the term “Taylor dispersion.” I call it “ diffusion (Taylor’s version).”

*Originally published at **http://hobbieroth.blogspot.com**.*