Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics

Celebrating the physics of all that flows. Ask a question, submit a post idea or send an email. You can also follow FYFD on Twitter and Google+. FYFD is written by Nicole Sharp, PhD.

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Researchers in Australia have demonstrated a “tractor beam” capable of manipulating floating objects from a distance using surface waves on water. And, unlike some research, you can try to replicate this result right in the comfort of your own bathtub! When a wave generator oscillates up and down, it creates surface waves that move objects and particles on the water’s surface. When the wave amplitudes are small, the outgoing wave fronts tend to be planar, as in part (a) of the figure above. These planar waves push surface flow away from the wave generator in a central outward jet, and new fluid is entrained from the sides to replace it. This creates the kind of flowfield shown in the streaklines of part (b). 

Increasing the amplitude of the surface waves drastically changes the surface flow’s behavior. Larger wave amplitudes are more susceptible to instabilities due to the nonlinear nature of the surface waves. This means that the planar wave fronts seen in part (a) break down into a three-dimensional wavefield, like the one shown in part (c). Near the wave-maker, the surface waves now behave chaotically. This pulsating motion ejects surface flow parallel to the wave-maker, which in turn draws fluid and any floating object toward the wave-maker. The corresponding surface flowfield is shown in part (d). The researchers are refining the process, but they hope the physics will one day be useful in applications oil spill clean-up. (Video credit: Australia National University; image and research credit: H. Punzmann et al. 1, 2; via phys.org; submitted by Tracy M)

Sloshing is a problem with which anyone who has carried an overly full cup is familiar. Because of their freedom to flow and conform to any shape, fluids can shift their shape and center of mass drastically when transported. The issue can be especially pronounced in a partially-filled tank. The sloshing of water in a tank on a pick-up truck, for example, can be enough to rock the entire vehicle. One way to deal with sloshing is actively-controlled vibration damping - in other words, making small movements in response to the sloshing to keep the amplitude small. This is exactly the kind of compensation we do when carrying a mug of coffee without spilling. (Image credit: Bosch Rexroth; source)

Sloshing is a problem with which anyone who has carried an overly full cup is familiar. Because of their freedom to flow and conform to any shape, fluids can shift their shape and center of mass drastically when transported. The issue can be especially pronounced in a partially-filled tank. The sloshing of water in a tank on a pick-up truck, for example, can be enough to rock the entire vehicle. One way to deal with sloshing is actively-controlled vibration damping - in other words, making small movements in response to the sloshing to keep the amplitude small. This is exactly the kind of compensation we do when carrying a mug of coffee without spilling. (Image credit: Bosch Rexroth; source)

A Leidenfrost droplet impregnated with hydrophilic beads hovers on a thin film of its own vapor. The Leidenfrost effect occurs when a liquid touches a solid surface much, much hotter than its boiling point. Instead of boiling entirely away, part of the liquid vaporizes and the remaining liquid survives for extended periods while the vapor layer insulates it from the hot surface. Hydrophilic beads inserted into Leidenfrost water droplets initially sink and are completely enveloped by the liquid. But, as the drop evaporates, the beads self-organize, forming a monolayer that coats the surface of the drop. The outer surface of the beads drys out, trapping the beads and causing the evaporation rate to slow because less liquid is exposed. (Photo credit: L. Maquet et al.; research paper - pdf)

Hydrophobic surfaces are great for creating some wild behaviors with water droplets, but they make neat effects with other liquids, too. The viscous honey in the first segment of this Chemical Bouillon video is a great example. Because the honey doesn’t adhere to the hydrophobic surface, the viscoelastic fluid does not maintain the form it had when drizzled on the surface. Instead, the honey contracts, with surface tension driving Plateau-Rayleigh-like instabilities that break the contracting ligaments apart to form nearly spherical droplets of honey on the surface.  (Video credit: Chemical Bouillon

Type 1a supernovae occur in binary star systems where a dense white dwarf star accretes matter from its companion star. As the dwarf star gains mass, it approaches the limit where electron degeneracy pressure can no longer oppose the gravitational force of its mass. Carbon fusion in the white dwarf ignites a flame front, creating isolated bubbles of burning fluid inside the star. As these bubbles burn, they rise due to buoyancy and are sheared and deformed by the neighboring matter. The animation above is a visualization of temperature from a simulation of one of these burning buoyant bubbles. After the initial ignition, instabilities form rapidly on the expanding flame front and it quickly becomes turbulent. (Image credit: A. Aspden and J. Bell; GIF credit: fruitsoftheweb, source video; via freshphotons)

Type 1a supernovae occur in binary star systems where a dense white dwarf star accretes matter from its companion star. As the dwarf star gains mass, it approaches the limit where electron degeneracy pressure can no longer oppose the gravitational force of its mass. Carbon fusion in the white dwarf ignites a flame front, creating isolated bubbles of burning fluid inside the star. As these bubbles burn, they rise due to buoyancy and are sheared and deformed by the neighboring matter. The animation above is a visualization of temperature from a simulation of one of these burning buoyant bubbles. After the initial ignition, instabilities form rapidly on the expanding flame front and it quickly becomes turbulent. (Image credit: A. Aspden and J. Bell; GIF credit: fruitsoftheweb, source video; via freshphotons)

Sharks have evolved some incredible fluid dynamical abilities. Instead of scales, their skin is covered in microscopic structures called denticles. To give you a sense of size, each denticle in the black and white image above is about 100 microns across. Denticles are asymmetric and overlap one another, creating a preferential flow direction along the shark. When water tries to move opposite the preferred direction, the denticles will bristle, like in the animation above. The bristled denticles form an obstacle for the reversed flow without any effort on the shark’s part. Since local flow reversal is an early sign of separation, researchers theorize that this bristling tendency prevents flow along the shark’s skin from separating. Keeping flow attached, especially along the shark’s tail, is vital not only to the shark’s agility but to keeping its drag low. Researchers have even begun 3D printing artificial shark skin to try and harness the animal’s hydrodynamic prowess. For much more shark-themed science, be sure to check out this week’s "Several Consecutive Calendar Days Dedicated to Predatory Cartilaginous Fishes" video series by SciShow, It’s Okay to be Smart, The Brain Scoop, Smarter Every Day, and Minute Physics. (Image credits: J. Oeffner and G. Lauder; A. Lang et al.; original video; jidanchaomian)

The schlieren optical technique is ideal for visualizing differences in fluid density and is an important tool for revealing flows humans cannot see with their naked eyes. In this high speed video, a professor lights a match. The initial strike generates friction and heat sufficient to convert some of the red phosphorus in the match head to its more volatile white phosphorus form. We see this in the schlieren as the cloud-like burst in the first several seconds. The heat from the phosphorus combustion ignites the sulfur fuel and potassium chlorate oxidizer in the match head to create a more sustained flame. During this period, wavy, smoke-like whorls of hot air rise from around the flame as buoyancy takes over. The upward movement of hot air draws in cooler air from the surroundings, providing the flame with an ongoing source of oxygen and allowing it to grow.  (Video credit: RMIT University)

Moving fluids around in microgravity can be a challenge. On Earth we experience buoyancy and other gravitational effects that dominate how fluids move. In space, on the other hand, the only options are to move fluids mechanically with pumps or fans or to use capillary action. Even on earth, adhesive forces between a liquid and its solid container can draw fluids in narrow tubes upward against the force of gravity. In microgravity, this capillary flow can be even more effective. But the best way to study and understand this flow regime is to do so in space. The Capillary Channel Flow experiment and similar studies have allowed astronauts on the space station and researchers back on Earth to explore the effects of capillary action on microgravity fluid transport. The results will be used to improve propulsion systems, heat exchangers, and life support systems used in space. (Photo credits: NASA, M. Dreyer et al., and A. Agrawala; submitted by jshoer)

Differences in viscosity or surface tension between two fluids can lead to finger-like instabilities. Here food dye placed on corn syrup forms narrow tendrils driven by the differing surface tensions of the two liquids. Similar dendritic shapes can be generated by injecting a low viscosity fluid into a high viscosity one (Saffmann-Taylor instability) or by pulling apart glass plates sandwiched around a high viscosity fluid. (Photo credit: T. Gaskill et al.)

A droplet falling onto a solid, dry surface seems like a simple situation, one that would be easy to understand. But splashes can be unpredictable.Velocity, viscosity, and surface tension all play clear roles, but the surrounding air also has an impact - drop the air pressure low enough and a droplet won’t splash. A new paper has tackled the problem, producing a mathematical model in agreement with experimental results. So why do some drops splash and others don’t? When a drop falls, its momentum flattens it into a pancake shape while surface tension struggles to hold it together. The spreading edge, called the lamella, can pull away from the surface. When it does, a pocket of high pressure forms beneath it due to lubrication effects, and the faster airflow over the top of the lamella creates a suction effect. This is analogous to a wing producing lift. Like the momentum that spread the droplet, the lift force pulls the lamella and ejecta sheet further up and outward, overcoming the restoring force of surface tension and tearing the droplet apart. For more on the effect, check out the research paper or this Inside Science article.  (Video credit: G. Riboux and J. Gordillo; via Inside Science)