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. Commercially available PIV systems can have costs ranging from $135,000-$600,000 depending on the number of velocity components, size of measurement region, flow speed, working fluid (e.g., water or air), and software acceleration selected, with volumetric systems generally at the higher end of this range. 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, test, and document open-source codes for 3D flow imaging. Students will also be involved in designing new validation experiments to evaluate the capabilities of this measurement technique and in developing analysis procedures to utilize the data provided in the context of biological propulsion (e.g. fish swimming).

- Mathematically and computationally modeling error propagation and uncertainty in fluid mechanics quantities derived from 3D measurements. In particular, we are interested in characterizing trade-offs between experiment design and measurement uncertainty.

Research will take place during the Fall semester for academic credit, with possible opportunities to continue into the spring and following summer.

Essay Prompt: 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. It's ok if this response is short.

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.

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++, arduino, python)

Registration for at least one unit of research credit during the Fall 2021 semester is required.

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

Particle Image Velocimetry
Image Processing

Contact Information:
Mentor name
Leah Mendelson
Mentor email
Mentor position
Name of project director or principal investigator
Leah Mendelson
Email address of project director or principal investigator
2 sp. | 5 appl.
Hours per week
Fall - Part Time (+1)
Fall - Part TimeSpring - Part Time
Project categories
Computer Vision (+3)
Computer VisionFluid MechanicsNumerical ModelingSignal Processing