It is becoming increasingly clear that the strong spatial and temporal fluctuations observed in a narrow Reynolds number regime around the laminar–turbulent transition in shear flows can best be understood using the concepts and techniques from a seemingly unrelated discipline – statistical mechanics. During the last few years, a consensus has begun to emerge that these phenomena reflect an underlying non-equilibrium phase transition exhibited by a model of interacting particles on a crystalline lattice, directed percolation, that seems very far from fluid mechanics. Now, Chantry et al. (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 824, 2017, R1) have developed a truncated-mode computation of a model shear flow, capable of simulating systems far larger and longer than any previous study and have for the first time generated enough statistical data that a high-precision test of theory is feasible. The results broadly confirm the theory, extending the class of flows for which the directed percolation scenario holds and removing any remaining doubts that non-equilibrium statistical mechanical critical phenomena can be exhibited by the Navier–Stokes equations.
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