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School of Mechanical Engineering

ME309L Flow Visualization Spring 2017

Experiment 1 Flow Visualization

Flow visualization is a fundamental technique of fluid mechanics. Centuries
ago, flow visualization was the primary method to observe flow patterns. Even
today, though technology has advanced, simple qualitative tracer flow visualization
techniques can reveal flow phenomena. This lab will explore flow visualization
techniques using dye as a tracer in a water tunnel. Pictures will be taken to capture
the wake developed behind several objects. By varying the Reynolds numbers,
different flow patterns will be observed. The goal of this lab is to understand the
relationship between Reynolds number and expected wake patterns.


Seeing is believing. In fluid mechanics, flow visualization is the technique
that allows us to see the flow field. For researchers, flow visualization is used to
uncover intricate phenomena not previously known or understand. For students,
flow visualization can be used to understand the fundamentals of fluid mechanics.

Figure 1: Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of plunging jet into water

Flow visualization is one of the oldest techniques in experimental fluid
mechanics. Its usage dates back as far as Leonardo da Vinci, who drew turbulent
flow patterns. Flow visualization is the process of inserting a dye, tracer, or other
tracker into a flow in order to visualize the fluid patterns. A camera or recording
device is used to capture the flow field. Analyzing flow visualization patterns can
reveal important characteristics of the flow field such as separation or stagnation


School of Mechanical Engineering
ME309L Flow Visualization Spring 2017

points. There are several types of field lines that can describe the flow. These

Pathline: The pathline is the line traced out by connecting all the points in
space that the tracer has passed through, over a specified region. Visualizing
a path line in an unsteady flow can be very difficult. In order to do so, a small
amount of the tracer (in this case the dye) must be released and its trajectory
followed over a long time period.
Streamline: The definition of a streamline is that it is tangent to the local
velocity vector. Considering a fixed point in space, the dye will indicate the
flow direction at that point for an instant of time t. Therefore, by visualizing
the flow direction at several points of the field, a line that is everywhere
tangent to the velocity vector can be formed. In other words a streamline.
Streakline: If all the particles that have passed through a fixed point at any
instant are collected, a streakline is seen. In the general case of an unsteady
flow the streamlines change continuously therefore they cannot be
visualized. The streakline on the other hand can be visualized over a time
period. If the flow is steady, pathlines, streamlines and streaklines

Quantitative Flow Visualization and PIV

There are several techniques to extract quantitative information from flow
visualization. Almost all of them are based on image processing and they can
provide information about two-dimensional and three-dimensional velocity fields.
Commonly used methods are Laser Speckle Velocimetry, Laser Induced
Fluorescence, Particle Tracking and the most popular is Particle Image Velocimetry
PIV is a non-intrusive measurement method. PIV consists of adding tracers,
very small particles, in to the flow field. It is essential that the particles are highly
reflective in order to reflect light, they are neutrally buoyant, and they do not
interact chemically with the flow such that the physical properties of the medium
(i.e. water) do not change. Additionally, tracers must have the same or nearly the
same density as the main flow so that the particles accurately follow the fluid. If a
disparity in density exists, then the particles will either rise to the top or fall to the
bottom of the flow and thus inaccurate recordings will be made. The particles are
made visible by pulsing laser light through a cylindrical lens such that it diverges to
form a thin laser sheet. The laser sheet illuminates a plane of the flow field. An
image-capturing device (camera, video, CCD) is placed normal to the interrogation
plane and it is used to acquire a series of images, which represent the reflections of
the particles in the flow.


School of Mechanical Engineering
ME309L Flow Visualization Spring 2017

Figure 2: Component schematic of PIV experiment1

Subsequently the images are processed to extract the magnitude and

direction of the particles. By performing a cross-correlation between two sequential
images, information about the exact displacement of the particle patterns within
two frames is obtained. This serves as the dx and dy of the fluid. Since the time
interval dt is fixed by the speed that the camera is acquiring the images (i.e. 30
frames per second), and thus known, the velocity components of the flow can be

Reynolds Number and Flow Patterns

Characteristics of the wake pattern are dependent on the Reynolds number of
the flow. Reynolds number is given in Equation 1.
= !
(Eq. 1)
= Density (kg/m3)
U = Velocity (m/s)
L = Characteristic length scale such as diameter or chord length (m)
= Viscosity (kg/m-s)

When Reynolds number is small, viscous forces are dominating the flow and when
Reynolds number is large, inertial forces are dominating the flow.

For a cylinder the wake patterns can be predicted if the Reynolds number is
known. At very low Reynolds numbers (~1), Stokes or creeping flow is observed.
In Stokes flow, the viscous forces are strong enough to keep the flow field attached
and thus no separation point or wake is observed. A notable characteristic of stokes


School of Mechanical Engineering
ME309L Flow Visualization Spring 2017

flow is that it is symmetric meaning that it the structure of the streamlines would
not change if the flow direction was reversed.

Figure 3: Streamlines of Stokes flow2

By a Reynolds number of 4, elongated eddies can be observed and a laminar
wake begins to form. As the Reynolds number increases beyond 40, a Von Karman
vortex street is observed, where two staggered rows of vortices are observed.
Around Re of 200, periodic vortex shedding is preserved, but the Von Karman
vortex street becomes unstable and breaks down. But at high Reynolds numbers
(~2000) as the flow is transitioning to turbulence, the periodicity breaks down as
well and a turbulent wake is observed.

Figure 4: Von Karman vortex street3


School of Mechanical Engineering
ME309L Flow Visualization Spring 2017

A digital camera will be provided for this lab. However, you are permitted to use an
iPhone, smart phone, or personal camera for this lab.

1. Record the water temperature given by the thermocouple.

2. Insert the small cylinder into the water tunnel, approximately 1 inch from the
end of the dye wand. Remove any bubbles on the cylinder.

3. Set the water channel speed to 1.25 in/s by setting the pump supply
frequency to 10 Hz. Wait at least 30 seconds for the water tunnel to achieve
steady state conditions.

4. Start the dye flow by releasing the yellow pinch valve on the smallest
diameter tubing leading from the dye reservoir to the dye insertion tube.
Photograph the cylinder wake.

5. Increase the water speed to 3.0 in/s by setting the pump supply frequency to
25 Hz. Wait at least 30 seconds for the water tunnel to achieve steady state
conditions. Insert the dye and acquire a photograph of the cylinder wake.

6. Remove the small cylinder and insert the large cylinder. Repeat steps 2-5.

7. Remove the large cylinder and insert the airfoil. Maintain a water channel
speed of 1.25 in/s or 10 Hz. Align the airfoil in such a way that it is parallel to
the flow ( = 0o). Realign the dye insertion tube to the middle of the airfoil.
Insert the dye and acquire a photograph of the airfoil wake.

8. Increase the airfoil angle of attack to approximately 20o. Adjust the dye
insertion tube to visualize boundary layer separation from the upper surface
of the airfoil. Acquire a photograph.

9. Turn off the water channel by turning the pump frequency to 0 Hz.

10. Download the photos from the camera to the computer using the USB

11. Obtain the signature of the lab TA on your data sheet.


School of Mechanical Engineering
ME309L Flow Visualization Spring 2017


Compute the Reynolds number for each test case

Provide background on flow visualization techniques, their uses and
Provide background on the relationship between Reynolds number and flow
patterns behind a cylinder
State all assumptions being used in this lab

Methods Section
Include the experiment procedure in paragraph form. (Must be in own
words, copying the procedure from this document verbatim is plagiarism.)
Include a picture of the experiment setup with labels of all equipment.

Results Section
Place 6 pictures which best show the wake patterns observed in each test
Table 1: Report the water temperature and kinematic viscosity. Be sure to
include a source for the kinematic viscosity.
Table 2: Calculate the Reynolds number for the small and large cylinders,
each at both water velocities.
Absolute Uncertainty should be included for the water temperature

Discussion Section
Discuss whether the results matched what was expected.
What is a stagnation point? What is its significance in a flow field?
What is a separation point? What is its significance in a flow field?
Discuss the flow patterns observed behind the two airfoil configurations.
Which configuration generates more lift?
What is inviscid flow? Discuss differences between viscous and inviscid flow.
In this experiment did you observe viscous or inviscid flow?
o Include a sketch of the streamlines around an airfoil at 20o angle of
attack in inviscid flow.
o When can you assume flow is inviscid?
Discuss limitations that are caused by the experiment procedure and ways to
improve the experimental methods


School of Mechanical Engineering
ME309L Flow Visualization Spring 2017

Include sample calculations for all calculated parameters (Reynolds number)
Attach the signed Raw Data sheet to the end of the report
There should be absolutely no handwritten or scanned in pages in the
Appendix (Except the Raw Data sheet which should be scanned in as the
last page.)

Image 1 taken from:
Image 2 taken from:
Image 3 taken from: Van Dyke, M. An Album of Fluid Motion, The Parabolic Press, Stanford,