It’s very hard to set up a jet engine in a wind tunnel and get accurate measurements inside it while it’s rotating 7,000 times a minute.
So while other members of the University of Melbourne’s mechanical engineering department use wind tunnels to measure turbulence on the surface of airplanes, Professor Richard Sandberg has developed a computer program to make the same measurements inside an engine.
His work also applies to the turbines used to generate power from gas, wind and wave.
We know the Southern Ocean plays a big role in our climate, but there’s much to learn about how and where clouds form over the sea, how they influence global temperatures, and how the wind affects cloud formation and how much carbon dioxide our oceans can absorb.
Now a 60m ‘wave pool in a wind tunnel’ built by Associate Professor Jason Monty is allowing researchers from The University of Melbourne, Swinburne, and Monash University to find out.
“We know that small eddies at the surface of the ocean affect how evaporation occurs and gasses are exchanged, but this turbulence is not included in climate models, as no one has been able to measure it,” Jason says.
Modern airplanes use up to half their fuel to overcome the drag caused by turbulence at the surface of an airplane.
In 2010, Professor Ivan Marusic’s team of engineers at the University of Melbourne became the first in the world to predict and model the behaviour of the eddies that cause this drag—known as boundary layer turbulence. And now they are trying to control them.
“Even a five per cent reduction could save billions of dollars, and millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide,” says Ivan, “which is a big deal to aircraft operators like Qantas.”
Airplane fuel consumption, shipping costs, climate change, engine noise, blue green algae spread, windfarm efficiency, and the speed of Olympic rowing boats could all change dramatically if scientists can crack the 150-year-old mystery of boundary layer turbulence.
And that’s what University of Melbourne engineers are hoping to achieve with a supercomputer model that can do 3,000 years’ research in one year, a purpose built wind tunnel, and a new air-sea interaction facility.