Navier-Stokes equation, in fluid mechanics, a partial differential equation that describes the flow of incompressible fluids. The equation is a generalization of the equation devised by Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in the 18th century to describe the flow of incompressible and frictionless fluids. In 1821 French engineer Claude-Louis Navier introduced the element of viscosity (friction) for the more realistic and vastly more difficult problem of viscous fluids. Throughout the middle of the 19th century, British physicist and mathematician Sir George Gabriel Stokes improved on this work, though complete solutions were obtained only for the case of simple two-dimensional flows. The complex vortices and turbulence, or chaos, that occur in three-dimensional fluid (including gas) flows as velocities increase have proven intractable to any but approximate numerical analysis methods.

In 2000 the Navier-Stokes equation was designated a Millennium Problem, one of seven mathematical problems selected by the Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Mass., U.S., for a special award. The solution for each Millennium Problem is worth $1 million.

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