Real vortices and imaginary vortices: from Charybdis and the Maelstrom to today

  • G. Lipari (Speaker)
  • GertJan van Heijst (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a workshop, seminar, course or other meeting


The vast ocean expanses and their incessant movements have been fascinating mankind ever since. Sailing the seas has long meant challenging the unpredictable and putting one's own life at risk. Even today, despite the understanding of the underlying principles and the seemingly unbounded technological progress, we are still defied by the unfathomable complexity beyond our findings.
The storytelling of seafarers of all times has formed a collective body of imagination which still shapes the way we think of the ocean. Whirlpools sucking ships into the abysses, for those to never come back, feature in much outstanding literature across thousands of years. Think of Scylla and Charybdis in the works of Homer and Virgil; of Ulysses' death in Dante's Inferno; of the Maelstrom in the Nordic mythology and in Edgar Allan Poe's reprise. Whirlpools feel like the black holes of the ocean.
Do such fatal whirlpools really exist? For sure there is a lot moving in circles in the water around us, ranging from the very small to the very large. And, for sure, this can still cause shipwrecking to the inadvertent sailors.
GertJan van Heijst, professor at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the group of Turbulence and Vortex Dynamics, and Giordano Lipari, scholar and expert in fluid dynamics, gave a dual talk scratching the surface of these fascinating phenomena.
In this accessible talk, the speakers guided the audience's intuition on vortices in seas and estuaries. Starting off from the verses of poets, and showing real-world events, laboratory experiments, satellite imagery and computer-based reconstructions, they blended mythology, literature, science and technology for anyone fascinated by the never-ending motion of the seas.
The talk was held in English.
Period27 Sep 2019
Event titleEvents of the Italian Institute of Culture in Amsterdam
Event typeSeminar
LocationAmsterdam, Netherlands
Degree of RecognitionNational