UCL Mechanical Engineering makes a splash
6 March 2006
What do submarine detection and incontinence pads have in common? What are the links between understanding flow through emergent vegetation in the Everglades, and understanding how hurricanes move? While these may seem like wildly divergent problems, they are all ones being addressed by the Fluid Mechanics Group within UCL Mechanical Engineering.
Fluid mechanics - the study of liquids and gases, often in motion - impacts on all areas of life, both natural and man-made. Dr Ian Eames, Reader in Fluid Mechanics, pointed out that research in the area is used collaboratively across most science disciplines: "We work with most departments at UCL. For example, we have worked extensively with Dr Alan Cottenden (UCL Medical Physics & Bioengineering) on understanding the flows through medical incontinence pads, to improve and optimise their design. With Professor Ted Johnson and Dr Robb McDonald (UCL Mathematics) we are studying jets and eddies in coastal regions and hurricane dynamics and with Professor Gary Lye and Prof Mike Hoare (UCL Biochemical Engineering) we are studying mixing in microwells and cell separation technologies. This is now providing a stimulating interdisciplinary environment which is keeping us all very busy."
The scope and variety of the department's experiments increased dramatically on 3 March 2006 when two new hi-tech flumes and wave tanks became fully operational. The tanks, along with new laboratory space and laser, were funded by SRIF 2, in a bid led by Dr Eames with Dr Richard Simons (UCL Civil & Environmental Engineering) and Dr Horne (Birkbeck College): "The new wave/flume tanks, which measure 20 metres long and are made entirely from glass, are an impressive piece of engineering in themselves and were designed by Dr Keith Drake (UCL Mechanical Engineering) and Edinburgh Design. They will be used for a variety of experiments to see how waves interact with bodies, to aid in ship or oil-rig design, and for environmental flow studies, for example. They are extremely versatile, and Birkbeck College plan to use them to study how waves break on beaches to examine the effects this has on erosion.
The recent addition of a rotating tank will further enhance the department: "A team formed from M Eng undergraduate students designed the rotating tank to spin at five revolutions per second. It's an impressive structure with a 2m diameter platform and is unique to the UK and will be used to study atmospheric flow phenomenon and new biotechnology problems."
Dr Eames was awarded a Leverhulme Prize in November 2005 for his work in furthering the understanding of the interactions between fluid and complex boundaries, in particular for applying his theoretical models to a wide range of practical situations. For more information on UCL Mechanical Engineering and the Fluid Mechanics group, use the links at the top of this article. If you are interested in visiting these laboratories or learning more about the department's activities, contact Dr Eames.
Images 1 and 2: Flume tank
Image 3: Rotating tank