People of Interest: Rudolf Hilsch

Vortex Tubes

The EXAIR Vortex Tubes use compressed air to generate a cold air stream at one end and a hot air stream at the other end.  The history behind this phenomenon is rooted in the Ranque-Hilsch tube.  In 1931, a French physicist, Georges Ranque, tried to use a cyclone vortex to separate iron filings from the air.  He noticed that when he capped one end with a slight opening, the air would become very warm.  Being disappointed with the separation, he shelved his patented idea for several years.  In 1946, Rudolf Hilsch picked up this idea from Georges Ranque and “tweaked” the design.  This product has now become known as the Vortex Tube.  In this blog, I will cover Rudolf Hilsch as a person of interest.

Rudolf Hilsch was born in December 18th, 1903 in Hamburg, Germany and died on May26th, 1972.  In 1927, Rudolf received his doctorate at the age of 24.  In 1938, he worked with a colleague, Robert Pohl, to create one of the first working semiconductor amplifier.   From 1941 to 1953, Hilsch was a professor of physics at Erlangen, and in 1947, he published his paper of the Ranque-Hilsch tube which he called the “Wirbelrohr”, or whirl pipe.  This publication became well known and was the start of the Vortex Tube.  To continue on with his career, in 1953, he became a full member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.  Also, at that same time, he started teaching physics at the Physics Institute of the Georg August University of Göttingen well into the 1960s.

Inside the Vortex Tube

To expand a bit more into his publication, the design for spinning the air at a high rate of speed can produce a separation of temperatures.  It starts with a generator to help facilitate a vortex.  As the vortex travels toward one end, a portion of that air will travel back through the center toward the opposite end.  (Reference animation above).  As these two vortices interact, conservation of momentum forces the inner vortex to give off energy in a form of heat to the outer vortex.  This separation of temperatures will give you a hot air stream and a cold air stream.  This type of device can do this without any moving parts or Freon.  You just have to supply a compressed gas.

EXAIR manufactures Vortex Tubes that utilize this phenomenon with compressed air.  We stock units with cooling capacities up to 10,200 BTU/hr and can reach temperatures from -50oF to +260oF (-46oC to +127oC).  So, thank you Mr. Ranque and Mr. Hilsch for creating a product to generate hot and cold air in a single unit.  If you would like to discuss any applications where cooling or heating is needed, you can talk with one of our Application Engineers.  We will be happy to help.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

Real Heroes of Science: Rudolf Hilsch

Rudolf Hilsch helped to advance vortex tube technology into what it is today.

If you look into the history or even the definition of a vortex tube, you’re likely to find mention of a physicist named Rudolf Hilsch.  Born December 18th, 1903, Hilsch was a German physicist, professor, and manager of the Physics Institute of the George August University of Göttingen.  He received a doctorate degree by the age of 24 and spent his career furthering the advancement and understanding of numerous phenomena of physics.

Although Hilsch didn’t invent the Vortex Tube (the original inventor was a physicist by the name of Georges J. Ranque), he is entwined with their history thanks to a paper he published in 1947.  According to lore, this paper significantly changed the understanding and performance capabilities of the vortex tube, eventually being marked as the precursor for identifying a vortex tube as a real potential cooling device. (I’ve made attempts to find this 1947 publication properly translated into English, but to no avail.  If you have it or find it, please email it to me at LeeEvans@EXAIR.com! (Original publication in German can be found here.)

Given that vortex tubes are a known EXAIR solution, it seems reasonable that today, on Hilsch’s birthday, we give recognition to this influential physicist and his mark on thermodynamic fluid flow technology.  And, although we at EXAIR are connected to Hilsch through vortex tubes, everyone alive has been influenced by his work.  This is because Hilsch and a partner (physicist Robert Wichard Pohl) constructed the first semiconductor amplifier in 1938, prompting Hilsch to prove (in 1939) that solid-state electronics are possible.  This work paved the way for transistor and solid-state electronics technology as we know it today.  Without Hilsch and his life’s work, not only would we not have vortex tubes, we likely would have any electronic devices we use every day.

Here’s to you Rudolf Hilsch.  Thank you for your work, your discoveries, and your achievements.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer
LeeEvans@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_LE