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Forthcoming Fluid Mechanics App Will Aid Students Visualize Fluid Flow

White, male geologist stands next to a pip gushing water with a creek and riparian system in the background.
CA Department of Water Resources

Fluid flow is an engineering application that can be difficult to understand or visualize, but a forthcoming smartphone app will aid in visualizing fluid mechanics flow fields.

“Fluid mechanics is the study of fluid motion. [It's] the forces that make fluids that we see every day move: flow through a pipe... airflow over the wing of an airplane. And it is important to study because everything that we do every day, we see some type of fluid flow," said Angie Minichiello, an assistant professor in the department of engineering education at Utah State University.

Minichiello and her team recently received a grant from the US Navy to create an educational, interactive app about fluid mechanics.

“We want to take a very contemporary, very technologically based measurement technique called particle-image velocimetry and we want to actually try to put that on your average smartphone or cell phone," Minichiello said. 

The app will focus on high school and undergraduate students interested in learning more about the specific field of PIV fluid mechanics.

“So PIV stands for particle image velocimetry," Minichiello said. "It is a technique used in by fluid mechanisms for experimentally measuring a flow and then actually along with that being able to develop pictures or visualizations of a 2D flow field.”

The app will be interactive to enable students to create and modify flow fields to increase their understanding of fluid mechanics.

“So the visualizations you can get from this technique are very rich and very interesting, you can actually see what the smaller scale structures in a flow field are and that is what we think is going to be powerful for education," Minichiello said. "The concepts behind fluid mechanics are not really taught at a high school level... and there’s not a lot of chances to really experiment with flow fields and to kind of see and gain intuition from what the math may look like physically.”

Minichiello and her team will be creating the app over the next year, then introducing the app to local high schools and undergraduate engineering courses.