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Nimish Pujara works with faculty associate Jacob Zeuske to test a wavemaker
4/04/2022

For undergrads, there’s an undercurrent of excitement in the renovated fluid mechanics lab

Written By: Alex Holloway

Upgrades in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s fluids teaching lab are bringing in new state-of-the-art learning tools for undergraduate engineering students.

The Kenneth R. & Ruth M. Wright Fluid Mechanics and Water Resources Teaching Collaboratory, located in Engineering Hall, has long served as a place where students can learn how physics drive an array of interactions in fluids. The facility is a combined classroom and laboratory space, and the classroom portion recently underwent renovations that included upgrades such as new screens for in-person instruction, and cameras and sound systems for remote learning.

Nimish Pujara, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering who specializes in fluid mechanics, says those upgrades paved the way for modernizing the lab’s equipment, too.

The lab now has a new system of lighting and high-speed cameras that will allow students to conduct particle image velocimetry (PIV) experiments. PIV is used broadly for fluid mechanics research and is particularly helpful for understanding how the flow speed varies in space via tracking of small particles within the flow. There are, typically, safety precautions that can be a barrier to using PIV in classroom settings because it tends to require powerful lasers to illuminate fluid particles. In this case, however, the lab’s safe, state-of-the-art LED lights will allow undergraduate students to get first-hand experience with this type of research and education tool.

“We can have physical demonstrations of fluid viscosity, which can be a difficult concept to explain,” Pujara says. “Previously, we might have demonstrated it indirectly by dropping balls in a fluid. Now, we can see it by taking measurements of flow over a region of space. It’s a very direct visualization.”

The lab also has new flow meters, thanks to alumnus David Benett (BSCEE ’78, MSCEE ’80), who has worked with industry contacts at Badger Meter and Teledyne ISCO to secure the new equipment. These flow meters are used to measure the flow you can’t directly see—for example, within a building’s pipes.

“PIV is great for when you can see, but for opaque pipes, these are very helpful,” Pujara says. “We’re getting multiple meters to show and explain to students so that they can understand how they work and are best used.”

The lab also has a new wavemaker, obtained through the collaborative efforts of undergraduate student Allie Stephens and CEE faculty associate Jacob Zeuske. The two designed and built the new piece of equipment in the College of Engineering’s makerspace and TEAM Lab.

Zeuske also designed a rig that will give the department, for the first time, the ability to demonstrate hydraulic jumps in a lab setting. A hydraulic jump happens when fast-moving water suddenly encounters an area of slower-moving water or some other sort of impediment that reduces its speed, causing a lift in the water level. For example, the ring that forms when high-speed water spreads out along the bottom of a sink is a hydraulic jump.

“This happens all the time in dams,” Pujara says. “If you design a dam, the water will come out in a supercritical state and perform a hydraulic jump before it joins the rest of the river. That’s a main point for civil engineering, but this phenomenon happens everywhere.”

All of these upgrades will help the instructors who teach in the lab to explain the sometimes-esoteric fluid mechanics concepts to students. And Pujara says better instruction will benefit everyone.

“One of the things that can help make education more equitable is if you have good experiments where students visualize the concepts they’re learning,” Pujara says. “Even if they don’t come in knowing the right theoretical language that we use in lectures, having good laboratory facilities can help fill those gaps, especially for those who come from underrepresented backgrounds or without much prior exposure to these ideas.”

The lab’s upgrades were made possible in large part through a grant from the College of Engineering’s fund for education innovation.