Low-Cost Open-Source Three-Dimensional Fluid Flow Measurement

Experiments are a crucial component of fluid mechanics research. Studies investigating applications spanning drag reduction, wind and hydrokinetic energy, turbulence, combustion, swimming and flying organisms, and geophysical flows all utilize measurements of the fluid velocity field to observe and quantify complex flow patterns and interactions, as well as to validate theoretical and computational models. In these applications and others, velocity fields are frequently measured by imaging the trajectories of tracer particles suspended in the flow, a technique known as particle image velocimetry (PIV). While resolving flow velocities in a two-dimensional plane using this technique is a standard and well-documented research practice, resolving volumetric three-dimensional flow fields requires additional resources including stronger illumination, multiple viewpoints, and increased computational capacity for data processing. While many flows are inherently three-dimensional, these measurement techniques are therefore out of reach for many researchers. This project seeks to build, benchmark, and disseminate a low-cost three-dimensional fluid flow measurement system, including both hardware and software components. If successful, the project will enable greater access to advanced measurement techniques in the fluid mechanics community.

Research students involved in this project will work on a team in the following focus areas:

- Developing, testing, and documenting open-source codes for 3D flow imaging.

- Designing and running validation experiments to evaluate the capabilities of our low cost measurement system, especially in near-body and near-surface applications such as a jumping fish.

Research will take place during the Fall and Spring semesters for academic credit. Depending on funding availability, summer students will be hired from within the research group.

Essay Prompt (~paragraph length): Why are you interested in working on this research project? What will you bring to the project and what do you hope to learn? Please also submit the names of two HMC professors who can comment on your work habits.

Name of research group, project, or lab
Flow Imaging Lab at Mudd
Why join this research group or lab?

This project provides the opportunity to apply the engineering design process to scientific instrumentation, including hardware, software, and user-oriented design considerations. This project will also provide experience in interdisciplinary problem-solving, specifically in applying ideas from computer vision and medical imaging to fluid mechanics.

The Flow Imaging Lab at (Harvey) Mudd (FILM), directed by Prof. Leah Mendelson, experimentally studies biological and bioinspired fluid mechanics. We mechanically recreate swimming behaviors seen in nature to identify new strategies for underwater vehicle propulsion. The group also works on low-cost tools for flow field measurements. Research projects in FILM frequently involve mechanical design and mechatronics, high-speed imaging, and particle image velocimetry, an experimental technique for measuring fluid velocities by filming the motion of tracer particles suspended in the flow. We frequently use image processing, computer vision, and computational photography to understand the behavior of a fluid flow.

Representative publication
Logistics Information:
Project categories
Computer Vision
Fluid Mechanics
Numerical Modeling
Signal Processing
Student ranks applicable
Student qualifications

The following skills and experiences are beneficial but not required:
- Coursework in mechanics, broadly defined (e.g., Phys 24, ENGR 83, ENGR 131)
- CS coursework (CS5, CS60, CS70, CS144)
- Programming experience (Matlab, C++, Python, arduino)

Registration for at least one unit of research credit during the Spring 2023 semester is required.

Time commitment
Spring - Part Time
Academic Credit
Number of openings
Techniques learned

Particle Image Velocimetry
Image Processing
Computational Photography

Contact Information:
Leah Mendelson
Name of project director or principal investigator
Leah Mendelson
Email address of project director or principal investigator
2 sp. | 3 appl.
Hours per week
Spring - Part Time
Project categories
Signal Processing (+4)
EngineeringComputer VisionFluid MechanicsNumerical ModelingSignal Processing