Saturday, September 27, 2008

Scientists solve 100-year-old engineering problem

Sept. 26, 2008As a car accelerates up and down a hill then slows to follow a hairpin turn, the airflow around it cannot keep up and detaches from the vehicle. This aerodynamic separation creates additional drag that slows the car and forces the engine to work harder. The same phenomenon affects airplanes, boats, submarines, and even your golf ball.

Now, in work that could lead to ways of controlling the effect with potential impacts on fuel efficiency and more, MIT scientists and colleagues have reported new mathematical and experimental work for predicting where that aerodynamic separation will occur.

The research solves "a century-old problem in the field of fluid mechanics," or the study of how fluids—which for scientists include gases and liquids—move, says George Haller, a visiting professor in the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering. Haller's group developed the new theory, while Thomas Peacock, the Atlantic Richfield Career Development Associate Professor in the same department, led the experimental effort.

Papers on the experiments and theory are being published in the Sept. 25 issue of the Journal of Fluid Mechanics and in the September issue of Physics of Fluids, respectively.

Fluid flows affect everything in our world, from blood flow to geophysical convection. As a result, engineers constantly seek ways of controlling separation in those flows to reduce losses and increase efficiency. One recent accomplishment: the sleek, full-body swimsuits used at the Beijing Olympics.

Controlling fluid flows lies at the heart of a wide range of scientific problems, including improving the performance of vehicles, Peacock says.
Source: R&D Magazine

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