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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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)

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)