Next-Generation Flow Systems Engineering


Extracting drinking water from the sea for a world parched by climate change; re-imagining aeroplane and ship hull designs for the best fuel efficiency and lowest emissions: these visionary technologies depend crucially on getting the fluids engineering right. The problem is that the fluid flows in each of these engineering systems are non-equilibrium. Non-equilibrium flows are different from conventional flows, and the tools for understanding and modelling them simply do not exist at present.

Figure: Molecular dynamics simulation of a water droplet settling on a graphene sheet. The droplet is 6 nanometers in diameter, and contains 3500 water molecules. (Image courtesy of William Nicholls, of Prof Reese’s research group.)

A cross-disciplinary research team led by Prof Jason Reese at Strathclyde University will use ARCHIE-WeSt  to deliver comprehensive new techniques for simulating fluid flows at the nano and micro scale, which will be deployed on three important technical challenges, from energy to healthcare. These are: drag reduction in aerospace, applications of super-hydrophobic surfaces to marine transport, and water desalination / purification.

The aim will be to accurately predict the performance of these proposed technologies, optimise their design, and propose new designs which exploit flow behaviour at this scale for technological impact.

For example, the United Nations estimate that by 2050 four billion people in 48 countries will lack sufficient water. As 97 percent of the water on the planet is saltwater, large-scale technologies to make seawater or other contaminated water drinkable are therefore needed urgently.

At the same time, figures from the US Energy Information Administration forecast China’s passenger transportation energy use per capita will triple over the next 20 years, and India’s will double. Improving the fuel efficiency of air and marine transport is a strategic priority for governments and companies around the world, and would reduce the emissions that lead to climate change.

Micro and nano scale engineering presents a surprising but important opportunity to help meet these pressing global challenges. This means developing working devices some 10 to 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. For example, early indications are that membranes of carbon nanotubes have remarkable properties in filtering salt ions and other contaminants from water. Also, embedding micro systems and/or nano structures over a vehicle’s surface promises to substantially reduce the drag of aircraft and ships.

For more details please contact Dr Yonghao Zhang (yonghao.zhang [at] strath [dot] ac [dot] uk), Reader at the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Strathclyde or visit

For a list of the research areas in which ARCHIE-WeSt users are active please click here.


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