Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Fluid dynamics


Artificial muscles hold promise for safe and powerful actuation for myriad common machines and robots. However, the design, fabrication, and implementation of artificial muscles are often limited by their material costs, operating principle, scalability, and single-degree-of-freedom contractile actuation motions. Here we propose an architecture for fluid-driven origami-inspired artificial muscles. This concept requires only a compressible skeleton, a flexible skin, and a fluid medium. A mechanical model is developed to explain the interaction of the three components. A fabrication method is introduced to rapidly manufacture low-cost artificial muscles using various materials and at multiple scales. The artificial muscles can be programed to achieve multiaxial motions including contraction, bending, and torsion. These motions can be aggregated into systems with multiple degrees of freedom, which are able to produce controllable motions at different rates. Our artificial muscles can be driven by fluids at negative pressures (relative to ambient). This feature makes actuation safer than most other fluidic artificial muscles that operate with positive pressures. Experiments reveal that these muscles can contract over 90% of their initial lengths, generate stresses of ∼600 kPa, and produce peak power densities over 2 kW/kg-all equal to, or in excess of, natural muscle. This architecture for artificial muscles opens the door to rapid design and low-cost fabrication of actuation systems for numerous applications at multiple scales, ranging from miniature medical devices to wearable robotic exoskeletons to large deployable structures for space exploration.

Concepts: Energy, Density, Fluid dynamics, Muscle, Fluid, Robotics, Space exploration, Exoskeleton


Inducing thermal gradients in fluid systems with initial, well-defined density gradients results in the formation of distinct layered patterns, such as those observed in the ocean due to double-diffusive convection. In contrast, layered composite fluids are sometimes observed in confined systems of rather chaotic initial states, for example, lattes formed by pouring espresso into a glass of warm milk. Here, we report controlled experiments injecting a fluid into a miscible phase and show that, above a critical injection velocity, layering emerges over a time scale of minutes. We identify critical conditions to produce the layering, and relate the results quantitatively to double-diffusive convection. Based on this understanding, we show how to employ this single-step process to produce layered structures in soft materials, where the local elastic properties vary step-wise along the length of the material.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Sociology, Experiment, Fluid mechanics, Viscosity, Liquid, Materials science, Latte


Fire whirls are powerful, spinning disasters for people and surroundings when they occur in large urban and wildland fires. Whereas fire whirls have been studied for fire-safety applications, previous research has yet to harness their potential burning efficiency for enhanced combustion. This article presents laboratory studies of fire whirls initiated as pool fires, but where the fuel sits on a water surface, suggesting the idea of exploiting the high efficiency of fire whirls for oil-spill remediation. We show the transition from a pool fire, to a fire whirl, and then to a previously unobserved state, a “blue whirl.” A blue whirl is smaller, very stable, and burns completely blue as a hydrocarbon flame, indicating soot-free burning. The combination of fast mixing, intense swirl, and the water-surface boundary creates the conditions leading to nearly soot-free combustion. With the worldwide need to reduce emissions from both wanted and unwanted combustion, discovery of this state points to possible new pathways for reduced-emission combustion and fuel-spill cleanup. Because current methods to generate a stable vortex are difficult, we also propose that the blue whirl may serve as a research platform for fundamental studies of vortices and vortex breakdown in fluid mechanics.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Hydrogen, Tornado, Fire, Combustion, Vortices, Fuel, Flame


Small-diameter (<4 mm) vascular constructs are urgently needed for patients requiring replacement of their peripheral vessels. However, successful development of constructs remains a significant challenge. In this study, we successfully developed small-diameter vascular constructs with high patency using our integrally designed computer-controlled bioreactor system. This computer-controlled bioreactor system can confer physiological mechanical stimuli and fluid flow similar to physiological stimuli to the cultured grafts. The medium circulating system optimizes the culture conditions by maintaining fixed concentration of O(2) and CO(2) in the medium flow and constant delivery of nutrients and waste metabolites, as well as eliminates the complicated replacement of culture medium in traditional vascular tissue engineering. Biochemical and mechanical assay of newly developed grafts confirm the feasibility of the bioreactor system for small-diameter vascular engineering. Furthermore, the computer-controlled bioreactor is superior for cultured cell proliferation compared with the traditional non-computer-controlled bioreactor. Specifically, our novel bioreactor system may be a potential alternative for tissue engineering of large-scale small-diameter vascular vessels for clinical use.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Cell culture, Engineering, Fluid, Design, The Culture, Chemical engineering, Bioreactor


Microactuation of free standing objects in fluids is currently dominated by the rotary propeller, giving rise to a range of potential applications in the military, aeronautic and biomedical fields. Previously, surface acoustic waves (SAWs) have been shown to be of increasing interest in the field of microfluidics, where the refraction of a SAW into a drop of fluid creates a convective flow, a phenomenon generally known as SAW streaming. We now show how SAWs, generated at microelectronic devices, can be used as an efficient method of propulsion actuated by localised fluid streaming. The direction of the force arising from such streaming is optimal when the devices are maintained at the Rayleigh angle. The technique provides propulsion without any moving parts, and, due to the inherent design of the SAW transducer, enables simple control of the direction of travel.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Fluid dynamics, Fluid mechanics, Liquid, Wave, Fluid, Field, Surface acoustic wave


Unlike current chemical trace detection technology, dogs actively sniff to acquire an odor sample. Flow visualization experiments with an anatomically-similar 3D printed dog’s nose revealed the external aerodynamics during canine sniffing, where ventral-laterally expired air jets entrain odorant-laden air toward the nose, thereby extending the “aerodynamic reach” for inspiration of otherwise inaccessible odors. Chemical sampling and detection experiments quantified two modes of operation with the artificial nose-active sniffing and continuous inspiration-and demonstrated an increase in odorant detection by a factor of up to 18 for active sniffing. A 16-fold improvement in detection was demonstrated with a commercially-available explosives detector by applying this bio-inspired design principle and making the device “sniff” like a dog. These lessons learned from the dog may benefit the next-generation of vapor samplers for explosives, narcotics, pathogens, or even cancer, and could inform future bio-inspired designs for optimized sampling of odor plumes.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Olfaction, Odor, Artificial insemination, Dog, Aroma compound, Body odor


We investigate the influences of expansion-contraction microchannels on droplet breakup in capillary microfluidic devices. With variations in channel dimension, local shear stresses at the injection nozzle and focusing orifice vary, significantly impacting flow behavior including droplet breakup locations and breakup modes. We observe transition of droplet breakup location from focusing orifice to injection nozzle, and three distinct types of recently-reported tip-multi-breaking modes. By balancing local shear stresses and interfacial tension effects, we determine the critical condition for breakup location transition, and characterize the tip-multi-breaking mode quantitatively. In addition, we identify the mechanism responsible for the periodic oscillation of inner fluid tip in tip-multi-breaking mode. Our results offer fundamental understanding of two-phase flow behaviors in expansion-contraction microstructures, and would benefit droplet generation, manipulation and design of microfluidic devices.

Concepts: Psychology, Fluid dynamics, Fluid mechanics, Viscosity, Liquid, Surface tension, Shear stress, Microfluidics


Dense active matter, from bacterial suspensions and microtubule bundles driven by motor proteins to cellular monolayers and synthetic Janus particles, is characterized by mesoscale turbulence, which is the emergence of chaotic flow structures. By immersing an ordered array of symmetric rotors in an active fluid, we introduce a microfluidic system that exploits spontaneous symmetry breaking in mesoscale turbulence to generate work. The lattice of rotors self-organizes into a spin state where neighboring discs continuously rotate in permanent alternating directions due to combined hydrodynamic and elastic effects. Our virtual prototype demonstrates a new research direction for the design of micromachines powered by the nematohydrodynamic properties of active turbulence.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Symmetry, Group, Fluid, Standard Model, Symmetry group, Spontaneous symmetry breaking, Higgs mechanism


Soft robots possess many attributes that are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with conventional robots composed of rigid materials. Yet, despite recent advances, soft robots must still be tethered to hard robotic control systems and power sources. New strategies for creating completely soft robots, including soft analogues of these crucial components, are needed to realize their full potential. Here we report the untethered operation of a robot composed solely of soft materials. The robot is controlled with microfluidic logic that autonomously regulates fluid flow and, hence, catalytic decomposition of an on-board monopropellant fuel supply. Gas generated from the fuel decomposition inflates fluidic networks downstream of the reaction sites, resulting in actuation. The body and microfluidic logic of the robot are fabricated using moulding and soft lithography, respectively, and the pneumatic actuator networks, on-board fuel reservoirs and catalytic reaction chambers needed for movement are patterned within the body via a multi-material, embedded 3D printing technique. The fluidic and elastomeric architectures required for function span several orders of magnitude from the microscale to the macroscale. Our integrated design and rapid fabrication approach enables the programmable assembly of multiple materials within this architecture, laying the foundation for completely soft, autonomous robots.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Fluid, Robotics, Robot, Autonomous robot, Humanoid robot, Pneumatics, Evolutionary robotics


In this paper, we analyze the trajectory and body attitude data of Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic free fall through the atmosphere on October 14, 2012. As one of us (UW) was scientific advisor to the Red Bull Stratos team, the analysis is based on true body data (body mass, wetted pressure suit surface area) and actual atmospheric data from weather balloon measurements. We also present a fully developed theoretical analysis and solution of atmospheric free fall. By matching the flight data against this solution, we are able to derive and track the drag coefficient CD from the subsonic to the transonic and supersonic regime, and back again. Although the subsonic drag coefficient is the expected CD = 0.60 ± 0.05, surprisingly the transonic compressibility drag coefficient is only 19% of the expected value. We provide a plausible explanation for this unexpected result.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Atmospheric pressure, Atmosphere, Drag, Supersonic, Drag coefficient, Hypersonic