By Jessica L. Tozer
For a scientist, life is a series of questions just waiting to be answered.
How we’re connected, how things work, why they’re here… These are things that humans have been trying to figure out since the Neanderthals began to drool. Elaine Oran seeks her understanding of the universe through the perspective of science.
Dr. Elaine Oran is the Senior Scientist for Reactive Flow Physics, affiliated with the Laboratory for Computational Physics and Fluid Dynamics at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC. Like many physicists, Dr. Oran uses equations and numbers to analyze questions of existence and bring the answers to life, so to speak.
So what does that mean, exactly?
“Basically, I study fluid motion, fluid dynamics. I study the motions and the behavior of gases and liquids and plasmas. More specifically, I solve rather complex sets of equations, usually on large computers, and these describe dynamics.”
Tell us a little bit about fluid motion and dynamics, and how it applies to you.
“My specialty that flow with some kind of reactions and turbulence. There are really three different sorts of reactions that we look at. One is chemical reactions. That’s what drives engines — car engines and propulsion devices. There are atomic reactions; the Earth’s upper atmosphere is an example. Then there are thermonuclear reactions; the sort that we look at in exploding stars.”
So how does understanding the mechanics of an exploding star help the Department of Defense?