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Engineers develop modelling tool to harness the power of 'unsteady air'

26 June 2015

The design process for vehicle manufacturers could to be improved thanks to the launch of new computer software that predicts the effects of airflow.

In nature, unsteady pockets of air called vortices occur in many places such as in the ocean in the form of whirlpools and in the atmosphere in the form of hurricanes. On a smaller scale vortices in the air pose a particular problem for engineers who need to understand their effect on vehicles such as aircraft.

Hence there is a need to develop designs that overcome the potential harmful effects of vortices; for example, aircraft wings can be damaged by vibrations when a vortex of air causes it to vibrate by in a phenomenon called 'flutter'.

Dr Peter Vincent and his colleagues from Imperial College London’s Department of Aeronautics have developed a mathematical modelling tool that can better predict the effect of vortices on vehicles, more rapidly than conventional methods.

The advantage of this new technology is that engineers could detect the challenges posed by vortices much earlier in the design process, so that they can be ironed out before expensive testing is conducted.

Dr Vincent (who presents the work in this YouTube video clip) predicts the new technology could have a wide range of applications such as harnessing the effect of vortices to make Formula One cars more road-hugging. Reducing the effects of vortices on passenger aircraft could lead to to less noise pollution, damage reduction and potential fuel savings.

The modelling tools could also help industry to produce more plentiful, cleaner energy by lessening the effects of vortices on wind turbine blades and reducing the need for repairs, which can be expensive and reduce energy generation capacity.

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