Category Archives: fluid mechanics

Diving into three-dimensional fluids

My research group has been working for some years on methods that allow straightforward comparison of large datasets [see ‘Recognizing strain’ on October 28th 2015].  Our original motivation was to compare maps of predicted strain over the surface of engineering structures with maps of measurements.  We have used these comparison methods to validate predictions produced by computational models [see ‘Million to one’ on November 21st 2018] and to identify and track changes in the condition of engineering structures [see ‘Out of the valley of death into a hype cycle’ on February 24th 2021].  Recently, we have extended this second application to tracking changes in the environment including the occurance of El Niño events [see ‘From strain measurements to assessing El Niño events’ on March 17th, 2021].  Now, we are hoping to extend this research into fluid mechanics by using our techniques to compare flow patterns.  We have had some success in exploring the use of methods to optimise the design of the mesh of elements used in computational fluid dynamics to model some simple flow regimes.  We are looking for a PhD student to work on extending our model validation techniques into fluid mechanics using volumes of data from measurement and predictions rather than fields, i.e., moving from two-dimensional to three-dimensional datasets.  If you are interested or know someone who might be interested then please get in touch.

There is more information on the PhD project here.

From nozzles and diffusers to stars and stripes

Schematic diagram of explanation in textAt the end of a lecture on energy flows in my first year undergraduate course on thermodynamics, I talk about nozzles and diffusers as examples of practical applications of the rest of the material in the lecture.  It is hazardous to sit in the front row of the lecture theatre because I take in a water bottle with a trigger spray to demonstrate how the nozzle increases the velocity of the fluid at the expense of pressure while gently sprinkling water on the front row.  I am always intrigued by the symmetry of nozzles and diffusers.  Diffusers increase pressure of a fluid at the expense of its velocity, i.e., a mirror image of the action of a nozzle.  The cross-sections are also mirror images because a nozzle has a cross-section that decreases in the flow direction while a diffuser has a cross-section that increases in the flow direction.  At least for sub-sonic flows, because the shapes are reversed for super-sonic flow; so a sub-sonic nozzle looks like a super-sonic diffuser and a sub-sonic diffuser looks like a super-sonic nozzle.  If that all sounds like fluid mechanics then the thermodynamic message is that, in nozzles and diffusers, the rates of heat and work transfer are approximately zero while the change in the kinetic energy of the fluid is very large.  I finish the lecture with a video clip of a school quartet of trombones playing ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ which wakes up the students who have slept through the lecture and allows me to point out the diffusers (bell of the trombone) transmitting acoustic pressure.

You can watch the video clip on YouTube at

The hills are shadows, and they flow from form to form, and nothing stands

Decorative aerial view of hillsThe title of this post comes from two lines in ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.‘ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  The theory of plate tectonics evolved about fifty years ago so it is very unlikely that Tennyson was thinking about the hills as waves of rock flowing across the landscape.  However, we now understand that Earth’s crust is divided into plates that are moving as a result of currents in the liquid magna beneath them.  For example, the African plate is moving northwards crashing into the Eurasian plate causing the edges of the plate to buckle and flow forming the Alps and Pyrenees along the edge of the Eurasian plate.  At the same time, the Eurasian plate is moving eastwards very slowly at a speed of about 2.5 cm per year, or about 2 metres in an average human lifetime.  So, nothing stands still.  Everything is a process.  It’s just that some processes are quicker than others [see ‘Everything is in flux but it’s not always been recognised‘ on April 28th, 2021].


Helen Gordon, Notes from deep time, London: Profile Books, 2021.

Nano biomechanical engineering of agent delivery to cells

figure 1 from [1] with text explanationWhile many of us are being jabbed in the arm to deliver an agent that stimulates our immune system to recognize the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 as a threat and destroy it, my research group has been working, in collaboration with colleagues at the European Commission Joint Research Centre, on the dynamics of nanoparticles [1] [see ‘Size matters‘ on October 23rd, 2019] which could be used as carriers for the targeted delivery of therapeutic, diagnostic and imaging agents in the human body [2].  The use of nanoparticles to mechanically stimulate stem cells to activate signalling pathways and modulate their differentiation also has some potential [3]. In studies of the efficacy of nanoparticles in these biomedical applications, the concentration of nanoparticles interacting with the cell is a primary factor influencing both the positive and negative effects.  Such studies often involve exposing a monolayer of cultured cells adhered to the bottom of container to a dose of nanoparticles and monitoring the response over a period of time.  Often, the nominal concentration of the nanoparticles in biological medium supporting the cells is reported and used as the basis for determining the dose-response relationships.  However, we have shown that this approach is inaccurate and leads to misleading results because the nanoparticles in solution are subject to sedimentation due to gravity, Brownian motion [see ‘Slow moving nanoparticles‘ on December 13th, 2017] and inter-particle forces [see ‘ Going against the flow‘ on February 3rd, 2021] which affect their transport within the medium [see graphic] and the resultant concentration adjacent to the monolayer of cells.  Our experimental results using the optical method of caustics [see ‘Holes in fluids‘ on October 22nd, 2014] have shown that nanoparticle size, colloidal stability and solution temperature influence the distribution of nanoparticles in solution.  For particles larger than 60 nm in diameter (about one thousandth of the diameter of a human hair) the nominal dose differs significantly from the dose experienced by the cells.  We have developed and tested a theoretical model that accurately describes the settling dynamics and concentration profile of nanoparticles in solution which can be used to design in vitro experiments and compute dose-response relationships.


[1] Giorgi F, Macko P, Curran JM, Whelan M, Worth A & Patterson EA. 2021 Settling dynamics of nanoparticles in simple and biological media. Royal Society Open Science, 8:210068.

[2] Daraee H, Eatemadi A, Abbasi E, Aval SF, Kouhi M, & Akbarzadeh A. 2016 Application of gold nanoparticles in biomedical and drug delivery. Artif. Cells Nanomed. Biotechnol. 44, 410–422. (doi:10.3109/21691401.2014.955107)

[3] Wei M, Li S, & Le W. 2017 Nanomaterials modulate stem cell differentiation: biological
interaction and underlying mechanisms. J. Nanobiotechnol. 15, 75. (doi:10.1186/s12951-