Tag Archives: fluid mechanics

Reliable predictions of non-Newtonian flows of sludge

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I have been working for many years on validation processes for computational models of structures employed in a wide range of sectors, including aerospace engineering [see ‘The blind leading the blind’ on May 27th, 2020] and nuclear energy [see ‘Million to one’ on November 21st, 2018].  Validation is determining the extent to which predictions from a model are representative of behaviour in the real-world [see ‘Model validation’ on September 18th, 2012].  More recently, I have been working on model credibility, which is the willingness of people, besides the modeller, to use the predictions from models in decision-making [see, for example, ‘Credible predictions for regulatory decision-making’ on December 9th, 2020].  I have started to consider the complex world of predictive modelling of fluid flow and I am hoping to start a collaboration with a new colleague on the flow of sludges.  Sludges are more common than you might think but we are interested in modelling the flow of waste, both wastewater (sewage) and nuclear wastes.  We have a PhD studentship available sponsored jointly by the GREEN CDT and the National Nuclear Laboratory.  The project is interdisciplinary in two dimensions because it will combine experiments and simulations as well as uniting ideas from solid mechanics and fluid mechanics.  The integration of concepts and technologies across these boundaries brings a level of adventure to the project which will be countered by building on well-established research in solid mechanics on quantitative comparisons of measurements and predictions and by employing current numerical and experimental work on wastewater sludges.  If you are interested or know someone who might want to join our research then you can find out more here.

Image: Sewage sludge disposal in Germany: Andrea Roskosch / UBA

Coverts inspire adaptive wing design

Earlier this summer, when we were walking the South West Coastal Path [see ‘The Salt Path‘ on August 14th, 2019], we frequently saw kestrels hovering above the path ahead of us.  It is an enthralling sight watching them use the air currents around the cliffs to soar, hang and dive for prey.  Their mastery of the air looks effortless.  What you cannot see from the ground is the complex motion of their wing feathers changing the shape and texture of their wing to optimise lift and drag.  The base of their flight feathers are covered by small flexible feathers called ‘coverts’ or ‘tectrix’, which in flight reduce drag by providing a smooth surface for airflow.  However, at low speed, such as when hovering or landing, the coverts lift up and the change the shape and texture of the wing to prevent aerodynamic stalling.  In other words, the coverts help the airflow to follow the contour of the wing, or to remain attached to the wing, and thus to generate lift.  Aircraft use wing flaps on their trailing edges to achieve the same effect, i.e. to generate sufficient lift at slow speeds, but birds use a more elegant and lighter solution: coverts.  Coverts are deployed passively to mitigate stalls in lower speed flight, as in the picture.  When I was in the US last month [see ‘When upgrading is downgrading‘ on August 21st, 2019], one of the research reports was by Professor Aimy Wissa of the Department of Mechanical Science & Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who is working on ‘Spatially distributed passively deployable structures for stall mitigation‘ in her Bio-inspired Adaptive Morphology laboratory.  She is exploring how flaps could be placed over the surface of aircraft wings to deploy in a similar way to a bird’s covert feathers and provide enhanced lift at low speeds.  This would be useful for drones and other unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) that need to manoeuvre in confined spaces, for instance in cityscapes.

I must admit that I had occasionally noticed the waves of fluttering small feathers across the back of a bird’s wing but, until I listened to Aimy’s presentation, I had not realised their purpose; perhaps that lack of insight is why I specialised in structural mechanics rather than fluid mechanics with the result that I was worrying about the fatigue life of the wing flaps during her talk.


The picture is from a video available at Kestrel Hovering and Hunting in Cornwall by Paul Dinning.