Potential flow

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In fluid dynamics, potential flow describes the velocity field as the gradient of a scalar function: the velocity potential. As a result, a potential flow is characterized by an irrotational velocity field, which is a valid approximation for several applications. The irrotationality of a potential flow is due to the curl of a gradient always being equal to zero.

In the case of an incompressible flow the velocity potential satisfies Laplace's equation. However, potential flows also have been used to describe compressible flows. The potential flow approach occurs in the modeling of both stationary as well as nonstationary flows.

Applications of potential flow are for instance: the outer flow field for aerofoils, water waves, electroosmotic flow, and groundwater flow. For flows (or parts thereof) with strong vorticity effects, the potential flow approximation is not applicable.

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