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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Posts tagged "schlieren photography"

NPR’s Skunk Bear Tumblr has a great new video on the schlieren visualization technique. The schlieren optical set-up is relatively simple but very powerful, as shown in the video. The technique is sensitive to variations in the refractive index of air; this bends light passing through the test area so that changes in fluid density appear as light and dark regions in the final image. Since air’s density changes with temperature and with compressibility, the technique gets used extensively to visualize buoyancy-driven flows and supersonic flows. Since sound waves are compression waves which change the air’s density as they travel, schlieren can capture them, too. (Video credit: A. Cole/NPR’s Skunk Bear)

The forces on an object in flight come from the distribution of pressure on the surface. To alter an object’s trajectory, one has to shift the pressure distribution. On subsonic and transonic aircraft, this is usually done with control surfaces like an aileron, but at supersonic speeds this can require a lot of force. The schlieren images above show an alternative approach in which a plasma actuator near the nosetip generates asymmetric forces on the cone. The actuator discharges plasma at t=0, and flow is from left to right. In the first image, the bubble of plasma is expanding on the upper side of the cone, disrupting the nearby shock wave. Over time, it moves downstream, carrying its disruption with it. The asymmetric effect of the plasma causes uneven pressures on either side of the cone that can be triggered in order to turn it in flight.  (Photo credit: P. Gnemmi and C. Rey)

A bullet passes through a soap bubble in the schlieren photo above. The schlieren optical technique is sensitive to changes in the refractive index and, since a fluid’s refractive index changes with density, permits the visualization of shock waves. A strong curved bow shock is visible in front of the bullet as well as weaker lines marking additional shocks waves around the bullet. Impressively, the bullet’s passage is so fast (and the photo’s timing so perfect) that there are no imperfections or signs of bursting in the soap bubble. The photo’s caption suggests that the bubble may be filled with multiple gases. If they are unmixed and of differing densities, this may be the source of the speckling and plume-like structures inside the bubble. Incidentally, if anyone out there has high-speed schlieren video of a bullet passing through a soap bubble, I would love to see it. (Photo credit: H. Edgerton and K. Vandiver)

We take for granted that drops which impact a solid surface will splash, but, in fact, drops only splash when the surrounding air pressure is high enough. When the air pressure is low enough, drops simply impact and spread, regardless of the fluid, drop height, or surface roughness. Why this is and what role the surrounding air plays remains unclear. Here researchers visualize the air flow around a droplet impact. In (a) we see the approaching drop and the air it pulls with it. Upon impact in (b) and (c) the drop spreads and flattens while a crown of air rises in its wake. The drop’s spread initiates a vortex ring that is pinned to the drop’s edge. In later times (d)-(f) the vortex ring detaches from the drop and rolls up. (Photo credit: I. Bischofberger et al.)

Schlieren photography is a common method of visualizing shock waves in wind tunnel experiments, but it’s much harder to pull off for aircraft in the sky. This video from NASA shows off some stunning work out of NASA Dryden capturing schlieren video of shock waves from a F-15B aircraft at Mach 1.38. You’ll notice that shock waves extend off the nose, wings, tail, and other parts of the airplane and extend well beyond the camera’s field of view. It’s these shock waves hitting the ground level that causes distinctive sonic booms. These tests are part of NASA’s on-going research into minimizing the effects of sonic boom so that civilian supersonic flight over land is feasible in the future. When the U.S. government shutdown ends, you’ll be able to learn more about this work at NASA Dryden’s GASPS page. (Video credit: NASA Dryden)

In compressible flows, shock waves are singularities, a tiny distance across which the density, temperature, and pressure of a fluid change suddenly and discontinuously. In this video, there is a wedge at the top and bottom of the frame and a Pitot probe roughly in the center. Flow is left to right and is initially subsonic. Once Mach 6 flow is established in the wind tunnel, a series of shock waves and expansion fans appear as light and dark lines in this schlieren video. Oblique shocks extend from the sharp tip of each wedge and interfere to create a normal shock in front of the Pitot probe. The air that passes through the normal shock is subsonic to the right of the shock, whereas air that goes through the oblique shocks remains supersonic. The fainter lines further to the right are weaker shock waves and expansion fans that reflect off the walls and probe. They exist to continue turning the airflow around the probe and to equalize conditions between different regions. (Video credit: C. Mai et al.)

Combustion is a remarkably complicated phenomenon fluid dynamically. The schlieren images above illustrate a couple of the variables that affect flame propagation. The top image shows an idealized, essentially spherical flame expanding in a quiescent hydrogen-air mixture at atmospheric pressure. The middle flame is expanding in a high-pressure environment, similar to an internal combustion engine. The lowest image shows a flame in a highly turbulent environment, which is also typical of internal combustion engines in order to promote mixing of the air and fuel. (Photo credit: C.K. Law, S. Chaudhuri, and F. Wu)

Combustion is a remarkably complicated phenomenon fluid dynamically. The schlieren images above illustrate a couple of the variables that affect flame propagation. The top image shows an idealized, essentially spherical flame expanding in a quiescent hydrogen-air mixture at atmospheric pressure. The middle flame is expanding in a high-pressure environment, similar to an internal combustion engine. The lowest image shows a flame in a highly turbulent environment, which is also typical of internal combustion engines in order to promote mixing of the air and fuel. (Photo credit: C.K. Law, S. Chaudhuri, and F. Wu)

Reader gorbax asks: 

I’ve been wondering for a while, actually, how do we know when the method of flow visualization doesn’t actually alter the flow of a fluid itself? 

This is a great question and one that fluid dynamicists have to deal with all the time. Ideally, we’d love to measure everything we want from a flow at all points at all times without doing anything to affect it. In reality, however, that just doesn’t happen. Some measurement techniques are less intrusive than others, but just about everything risks having some effect. This raises two questions: 1) How small can we make that effect? and 2) Do we even care if we’re affecting the flow?

With regards to the first, the onus is typically on the experimentalist to show that whatever visualization technique he/she uses is not significantly affecting the flow. For something like particle image velocimetry, which requires seeding the flow with particles, this means selecting particles that follow the flow rather than changing it and considering carefully how and where to seed the flow such that any added vorticity from the injection does not alter the flow significantly. Checking for this can be done many ways, for example with comparisons to other measurement techniques (with and without seeding) or by comparing to simulation. 

The second question—do we care?—is also a significant consideration. Because the purpose of flow visualization is often to get a qualitative feel for the flow field rather than quantitative information, it is often not a significant concern if there is some slight effect from the visualization technique. This can often be the case with smoke-wire and dye visualizations where we just want to see what’s going on.

Finally, there are some instances of flow visualization which are completely unobtrusive to the flow. Schlieren photography and infrared thermography are two examples. Both are optical techniques that act from a distance and take advantage of extant flow properties to make certain features visible. The real key is knowing what technique(s) will work for the flow you have and will give you the information you want. After that, it’s all about proper and thorough execution. (Photo credits: N. Vandenberge et al., T. Omer, M. Canals, P. Danehy et al., A. Wilkens et al., W. Saric et al.)

When a drop falls from a moderate height into a shallow pool, its impact creates a complicated pattern. The photo above is a composite image showing a top-down view 100 ms after such an impact. On the left side, the flow is visualized using dye whereas the right shows a schlieren photograph, in which contrast indicates variations in density. Both methods show the same general structure - an inner vortex ring generated at the edge of the impact crater and formed mostly of drop fluid and an outer vortex ring, consisting primarily of pool fluid, formed by the spreading wave. Both regions show signs of instability and breakdown. (Photo credit: A. Wilkens et al.)

This high speed video shows schlieren photography of a bottle rocket's exhaust. The supersonic CO2 leaving the nozzle is underexpanded, meaning its pressure is still higher than the ambient atmosphere. As a result, a series of diamond-shaped shock waves and expansion fans appear in the exhaust jet. Each shock and expansion changes the pressure of the exhaust until it ultimately reaches the same pressure as the ambient air. This distinctive pattern, also known as Mach diamonds or shock diamonds, often occurs in wake of rockets. (Video credit: P. Peterson and P. Taylor)