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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Soap films consist predominantly of water, yet their thin, virtually two-dimensional nature is impossible for water alone to achieve. The small amount of added soap acts as a surfactant, lowering the surface tension of the fluid and preventing it from bursting into droplets. When forming a film, the soap molecules align themselves along the outer surfaces of the film, with their hydrophilic heads among the water molecules and their hydrophobic tails oriented outward. For the most part, the water molecules stay sandwiched between the surfactant layers, forming a film only about as thick as the wavelength of visible light. In fact, the psychedelic colors of a soap film are directly related to the film’s thickness with the black regions being the thinnest. The video above shows a horizontal soap film at the microscopic scale and some of the dynamics exist therein. (Video credit: J. Hart)

When fluid dynamicists get into the ALS ice bucket challenge, they give it a good fluidsy twist. Here are some selections, including lots of high speed video and an infrared video. Check out all those liquid sheets breaking up. Links to the full videos are below. (Image credits: Ewoldt Research Group, source videoTAMU NAL, source video; BYU Splash Lab, source videos 1, 2, 3, 4)

Atomization is the process of breaking a liquid into a spray of fine droplets. There are many methods to accomplish this, including jet impingement, pressure-driven nozzles, and ultrasonic excitement. In the images above, a drop has been atomized through vibration of the surface on which it rests. Check out the full video. As the amplitude of the surface’s vibration increases, the droplet shifts from rippling capillary waves to ejecting tiny droplets. With the right vibrational forcing, the entire droplet bursts into a fine spray, as seen in the photo above. The process is extremely quick, taking less than 0.4 seconds to atomize a 0.1 ml drop of water. (Photo and video credit: B. Vukasinovic et al.; source video)

The mystery of the roaming rocks of Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa may be at an end. Since their discovery in the 1940s, researchers have speculated about what conditions on the playa could cause 15+ kg rocks to slide tens or hundreds of meters across the dry lakebed. But the rare nature of the movement and the remoteness of the location had prevented direct observation of the phenomenon until last December when a research team caught the rocks in motion (see the timelapse animation above or the source video). Winter rain and snow had created a shallow ice-encrusted pond across the playa by the time the researchers arrived to check their previously installed equipment. Late one sunny morning, the melting ice, only millimeters thick, cracked into plates tens of meters wide and began to move under the light breeze (~4-5 m/s). Despite its windowpane-like thickness, the ice pushed GPS-instrumented rocks up to hundreds of meters at speeds of 2-5 m/min. It took just the right mix of conditions—sun, wind, snow, and water—but the two ice-shoving instances the team observed go a long way toward explaining the sailing rocks. (Image credits: R. Norris et al.; J. Norris, source video; NASA Goddard; via Discover and SciAm)

Those who have observed the languid pace of seahorses or seadragons swimming might think these fish only hunt slow prey. In fact, the tiny crustaceans on which they feed are extremely quick, capable of velocities over 500 body lengths per second. Instead of speed, the seahorse relies on stealth to capture its prey, as shown in the holographic video above. Seahorses use a pivot method to feed, simultaneously shifting their snouts up and sucking water in to catch their target. But this method of feeding only works for distances of about 1 mm. To get that close in the first place, the seahorse must approach its prey without alerting it. Researchers found that both the seahorse’s head shape and its natural posture create a hydrodynamic quiet zone just off the seahorse’s snout, directly in its strike zone. Fluid velocity and deformation rates in this region are significantly lower than those around the rest of the seahorse’s face when it moves, allowing the fish to sneak up on its prey. These adaptations are remarkably effective, too; the researchers observed that the seahorses were able to position themselves within 1mm of their prey without alerting them 84% of the time. (Video credit: B. Gemmell et al.; via Discover)

Yesterday we discussed some of the basic mechanics of a frisbee in flight. Although frisbees do generate lift similarly to a wing, they do have some unique features. You’ve probably noticed, for example, that the top surface of a frisbee has several raised concentric rings. These are not simply decoration! Instead the rings disrupt airflow at the surface of the frisbee. This actually creates a narrow region of separated flow, visible in region B on the left oil-flow image. Airflow reattaches to the frisbee in the image after the second black arc, and the boundary layer along region C remains turbulent and attached for the remaining length of the frisbee. Keeping the boundary layer attached over the top surface ensures low pressure so that the disk has plenty of lift and remains aerodynamically stable in flight. A smooth frisbee would be much harder to throw accurately because its flight would be very sensitive to angle of attack and likely to stall. (Image credits: J. Potts and W. Crowther; recommended papers by: V. Morrison and R. Lorentz)

Frisbees are a popular summertime toy, but they involve some pretty neat physics, too. Two key ingredients to their long flight times are their lift generation and spin. A frisbee in flight behaves very much like a wing, generating lift by flying at an angle of attack. This angle of attack and the curvature of the disk rim cause air to accelerate over the top of the leading edge. Airflow over the top of the disk is faster than that across the bottom;  thus, pressure is lower over the top of the frisbee and lift is generated. Aerodynamic lift and drag aren’t enough to keep the frisbee aloft long, though. Spin matters, too. If the frisbee is launched without spin, gravity acts on it through its center of mass, but lift and drag act through a point off-center because lift tends to be higher on the front of the disk than the back. This offset between gravitational forces and aerodynamic forces creates a torque that tends to flip the frisbee. By spinning the frisbee, the thrower gives it a high angular momentum acting about its spin axis. Now instead of flipping the disk, the torque caused by the offset forces just tips the angular momentum vector slightly. Physically, this is known as spin stabilization or gyroscopic stability. Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at airflow over the frisbee.  (Image credit: A. Leibel and C. Pugh, source video; recommended papers by: V. Morrison and R. Lorentz)

Frisbees are a popular summertime toy, but they involve some pretty neat physics, too. Two key ingredients to their long flight times are their lift generation and spin. A frisbee in flight behaves very much like a wing, generating lift by flying at an angle of attack. This angle of attack and the curvature of the disk rim cause air to accelerate over the top of the leading edge. Airflow over the top of the disk is faster than that across the bottom;  thus, pressure is lower over the top of the frisbee and lift is generated. Aerodynamic lift and drag aren’t enough to keep the frisbee aloft long, though. Spin matters, too. If the frisbee is launched without spin, gravity acts on it through its center of mass, but lift and drag act through a point off-center because lift tends to be higher on the front of the disk than the back. This offset between gravitational forces and aerodynamic forces creates a torque that tends to flip the frisbee. By spinning the frisbee, the thrower gives it a high angular momentum acting about its spin axis. Now instead of flipping the disk, the torque caused by the offset forces just tips the angular momentum vector slightly. Physically, this is known as spin stabilization or gyroscopic stability. Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at airflow over the frisbee.  (Image credit: A. Leibel and C. Pugh, source video; recommended papers by: V. Morrison and R. Lorentz)

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)