Fluid mechanics

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Fluid mechanics is the branch of physics concerned with the mechanics of fluids (liquids, gases, and plasmas) and the forces on them. [1] :3 It has applications in a wide range of disciplines, including mechanical, civil, chemical and biomedical engineering, geophysics, oceanography, meteorology, astrophysics, and biology.


It can be divided into fluid statics, the study of fluids at rest; and fluid dynamics, the study of the effect of forces on fluid motion. [1] :3 It is a branch of continuum mechanics, a subject which models matter without using the information that it is made out of atoms; that is, it models matter from a macroscopic viewpoint rather than from microscopic. Fluid mechanics, especially fluid dynamics, is an active field of research, typically mathematically complex. Many problems are partly or wholly unsolved and are best addressed by numerical methods, typically using computers. A modern discipline, called computational fluid dynamics (CFD), is devoted to this approach. [2] Particle image velocimetry, an experimental method for visualizing and analyzing fluid flow, also takes advantage of the highly visual nature of fluid flow.

Brief history

The study of fluid mechanics goes back at least to the days of ancient Greece, when Archimedes investigated fluid statics and buoyancy and formulated his famous law known now as the Archimedes' principle, which was published in his work On Floating Bodies —generally considered to be the first major work on fluid mechanics. Rapid advancement in fluid mechanics began with Leonardo da Vinci (observations and experiments), Evangelista Torricelli (invented the barometer), Isaac Newton (investigated viscosity) and Blaise Pascal (researched hydrostatics, formulated Pascal's law), and was continued by Daniel Bernoulli with the introduction of mathematical fluid dynamics in Hydrodynamica (1739).

Inviscid flow was further analyzed by various mathematicians (Jean le Rond d'Alembert, Joseph Louis Lagrange, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Siméon Denis Poisson) and viscous flow was explored by a multitude of engineers including Jean Léonard Marie Poiseuille and Gotthilf Hagen. Further mathematical justification was provided by Claude-Louis Navier and George Gabriel Stokes in the Navier–Stokes equations, and boundary layers were investigated (Ludwig Prandtl, Theodore von Kármán), while various scientists such as Osborne Reynolds, Andrey Kolmogorov, and Geoffrey Ingram Taylor advanced the understanding of fluid viscosity and turbulence.

Main branches

Fluid statics

Fluid statics or hydrostatics is the branch of fluid mechanics that studies fluids at rest. It embraces the study of the conditions under which fluids are at rest in stable equilibrium; and is contrasted with fluid dynamics, the study of fluids in motion. Hydrostatics offers physical explanations for many phenomena of everyday life, such as why atmospheric pressure changes with altitude, why wood and oil float on water, and why the surface of water is always level whatever the shape of its container. Hydrostatics is fundamental to hydraulics, the engineering of equipment for storing, transporting and using fluids. It is also relevant to some aspects of geophysics and astrophysics (for example, in understanding plate tectonics and anomalies in the Earth's gravitational field), to meteorology, to medicine (in the context of blood pressure), and many other fields.

Fluid dynamics

Fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that deals with fluid flow—the science of liquids and gases in motion. [3] Fluid dynamics offers a systematic structure—which underlies these practical disciplines—that embraces empirical and semi-empirical laws derived from flow measurement and used to solve practical problems. The solution to a fluid dynamics problem typically involves calculating various properties of the fluid, such as velocity, pressure, density, and temperature, as functions of space and time. It has several subdisciplines itself, including aerodynamics [4] [5] [6] [7] (the study of air and other gases in motion) and hydrodynamics [8] [9] (the study of liquids in motion). Fluid dynamics has a wide range of applications, including calculating forces and movements on aircraft, determining the mass flow rate of petroleum through pipelines, predicting evolving weather patterns, understanding nebulae in interstellar space and modeling explosions. Some fluid-dynamical principles are used in traffic engineering and crowd dynamics.

Relationship to continuum mechanics

Fluid mechanics is a subdiscipline of continuum mechanics, as illustrated in the following table.

Continuum mechanics
The study of the physics of continuous materials
Solid mechanics
The study of the physics of continuous materials with a defined rest shape.
Describes materials that return to their rest shape after applied stresses are removed.
Describes materials that permanently deform after a sufficient applied stress.
The study of materials with both solid and fluid characteristics.
Fluid mechanics
The study of the physics of continuous materials which deform when subjected to a force.
Non-Newtonian fluid
Do not undergo strain rates proportional to the applied shear stress.
Newtonian fluids undergo strain rates proportional to the applied shear stress.

In a mechanical view, a fluid is a substance that does not support shear stress; that is why a fluid at rest has the shape of its containing vessel. A fluid at rest has no shear stress.


Balance for some integrated fluid quantity in a control volume enclosed by a control surface. Reynolds.svg
Balance for some integrated fluid quantity in a control volume enclosed by a control surface.

The assumptions inherent to a fluid mechanical treatment of a physical system can be expressed in terms of mathematical equations. Fundamentally, every fluid mechanical system is assumed to obey:

For example, the assumption that mass is conserved means that for any fixed control volume (for example, a spherical volume)—enclosed by a control surface—the rate of change of the mass contained in that volume is equal to the rate at which mass is passing through the surface from outside to inside, minus the rate at which mass is passing from inside to outside. This can be expressed as an equation in integral form over the control volume. [10] :74

The continuum assumption is an idealization of continuum mechanics under which fluids can be treated as continuous, even though, on a microscopic scale, they are composed of molecules. Under the continuum assumption, macroscopic (observed/measurable) properties such as density, pressure, temperature, and bulk velocity are taken to be well-defined at "infinitesimal" volume elements—small in comparison to the characteristic length scale of the system, but large in comparison to molecular length scale. Fluid properties can vary continuously from one volume element to another and are average values of the molecular properties. The continuum hypothesis can lead to inaccurate results in applications like supersonic speed flows, or molecular flows on nano scale. [11] Those problems for which the continuum hypothesis fails can be solved using statistical mechanics. To determine whether or not the continuum hypothesis applies, the Knudsen number, defined as the ratio of the molecular mean free path to the characteristic length scale, is evaluated. Problems with Knudsen numbers below 0.1 can be evaluated using the continuum hypothesis, but molecular approach (statistical mechanics) can be applied to find the fluid motion for larger Knudsen numbers.

The Navier–Stokes equations (named after Claude-Louis Navier and George Gabriel Stokes) are differential equations that describe the force balance at a given point within a fluid. For an incompressible fluid with vector velocity field , the Navier–Stokes equations are [12] [13] [14] [15]


These differential equations are the analogues for deformable materials to Newton's equations of motion for particles – the Navier–Stokes equations describe changes in momentum (force) in response to pressure and viscosity, parameterized by the kinematic viscosity here. Occasionally, body forces, such as the gravitational force or Lorentz force are added to the equations.

Solutions of the Navier–Stokes equations for a given physical problem must be sought with the help of calculus. In practical terms, only the simplest cases can be solved exactly in this way. These cases generally involve non-turbulent, steady flow in which the Reynolds number is small. For more complex cases, especially those involving turbulence, such as global weather systems, aerodynamics, hydrodynamics and many more, solutions of the Navier–Stokes equations can currently only be found with the help of computers. This branch of science is called computational fluid dynamics. [16] [17] [18] [19] [20]

Inviscid and viscous fluids

An inviscid fluid has no viscosity, . In practice, an inviscid flow is an idealization, one that facilitates mathematical treatment. In fact, purely inviscid flows are only known to be realized in the case of superfluidity. Otherwise, fluids are generally viscous, a property that is often most important within a boundary layer near a solid surface, [21] where the flow must match onto the no-slip condition at the solid. In some cases, the mathematics of a fluid mechanical system can be treated by assuming that the fluid outside of boundary layers is inviscid, and then matching its solution onto that for a thin laminar boundary layer.

For fluid flow over a porous boundary, the fluid velocity can be discontinuous between the free fluid and the fluid in the porous media (this is related to the Beavers and Joseph condition). Further, it is useful at low subsonic speeds to assume that gas is incompressible—that is, the density of the gas does not change even though the speed and static pressure change.

Newtonian versus non-Newtonian fluids

A Newtonian fluid (named after Isaac Newton) is defined to be a fluid whose shear stress is linearly proportional to the velocity gradient in the direction perpendicular to the plane of shear. This definition means regardless of the forces acting on a fluid, it continues to flow. For example, water is a Newtonian fluid, because it continues to display fluid properties no matter how much it is stirred or mixed. A slightly less rigorous definition is that the drag of a small object being moved slowly through the fluid is proportional to the force applied to the object. (Compare friction). Important fluids, like water as well as most gases, behave—to good approximation—as a Newtonian fluid under normal conditions on Earth. [10] :145

By contrast, stirring a non-Newtonian fluid can leave a "hole" behind. This will gradually fill up over time—this behavior is seen in materials such as pudding, oobleck, or sand (although sand isn't strictly a fluid). Alternatively, stirring a non-Newtonian fluid can cause the viscosity to decrease, so the fluid appears "thinner" (this is seen in non-drip paints). There are many types of non-Newtonian fluids, as they are defined to be something that fails to obey a particular property—for example, most fluids with long molecular chains can react in a non-Newtonian manner. [10] :145

Equations for a Newtonian fluid

The constant of proportionality between the viscous stress tensor and the velocity gradient is known as the viscosity. A simple equation to describe incompressible Newtonian fluid behavior is


is the shear stress exerted by the fluid ("drag")
is the fluid viscosity—a constant of proportionality
is the velocity gradient perpendicular to the direction of shear.

For a Newtonian fluid, the viscosity, by definition, depends only on temperature, not on the forces acting upon it. If the fluid is incompressible the equation governing the viscous stress (in Cartesian coordinates) is


is the shear stress on the face of a fluid element in the direction
is the velocity in the direction
is the direction coordinate.

If the fluid is not incompressible the general form for the viscous stress in a Newtonian fluid is

where is the second viscosity coefficient (or bulk viscosity). If a fluid does not obey this relation, it is termed a non-Newtonian fluid, of which there are several types. Non-Newtonian fluids can be either plastic, Bingham plastic, pseudoplastic, dilatant, thixotropic, rheopectic, viscoelastic.

In some applications, another rough broad division among fluids is made: ideal and non-ideal fluids. An ideal fluid is non-viscous and offers no resistance whatsoever to a shearing force. An ideal fluid really does not exist, but in some calculations, the assumption is justifiable. One example of this is the flow far from solid surfaces. In many cases, the viscous effects are concentrated near the solid boundaries (such as in boundary layers) while in regions of the flow field far away from the boundaries the viscous effects can be neglected and the fluid there is treated as it were inviscid (ideal flow). When the viscosity is neglected, the term containing the viscous stress tensor in the Navier–Stokes equation vanishes. The equation reduced in this form is called the Euler equation.

See also

Related Research Articles

Fluid dynamics Aspects of fluid mechanics involving flow

In physics and engineering, fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that describes the flow of fluids—liquids and gases. It has several subdisciplines, including aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. Fluid dynamics has a wide range of applications, including calculating forces and moments on aircraft, determining the mass flow rate of petroleum through pipelines, predicting weather patterns, understanding nebulae in interstellar space and modelling fission weapon detonation.

Navier–Stokes equations Equations describing the motion of viscous fluid substances

In physics, the Navier–Stokes equations are certain partial differential equations which describe the motion of viscous fluid substances, named after French engineer and physicist Claude-Louis Navier and Anglo-Irish physicist and mathematician George Gabriel Stokes. They were developed over several decades of progressively building the theories, from 1822 (Navier) to 1842–1850 (Stokes).

In continuum mechanics, vorticity is a pseudovector field that describes the local spinning motion of a continuum near some point, as would be seen by an observer located at that point and traveling along with the flow. It is an important quantity in the dynamical theory of fluids and provides a convenient framework for understanding a variety of complex flow phenomena, such as the formation and motion of vortex rings.

The vorticity equation of fluid dynamics describes the evolution of the vorticity ω of a particle of a fluid as it moves with its flow; that is, the local rotation of the fluid. The governing equation is:

Computational fluid dynamics Analysis and solving of problems that involve fluid flows

Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) is a branch of fluid mechanics that uses numerical analysis and data structures to analyze and solve problems that involve fluid flows. Computers are used to perform the calculations required to simulate the free-stream flow of the fluid, and the interaction of the fluid with surfaces defined by boundary conditions. With high-speed supercomputers, better solutions can be achieved, and are often required to solve the largest and most complex problems. Ongoing research yields software that improves the accuracy and speed of complex simulation scenarios such as transonic or turbulent flows. Initial validation of such software is typically performed using experimental apparatus such as wind tunnels. In addition, previously performed analytical or empirical analysis of a particular problem can be used for comparison. A final validation is often performed using full-scale testing, such as flight tests.

A Newtonian fluid is a fluid in which the viscous stresses arising from its flow are at every point linearly correlated to the local strain rate — the rate of change of its deformation over time. Stresses are proportional to the rate of change of the fluid's velocity vector.

Shear stress Component of stress coplanar with a material cross section

Shear stress, often denoted by τ, is the component of stress coplanar with a material cross section. It arises from the shear force, the component of force vector parallel to the material cross section. Normal stress, on the other hand, arises from the force vector component perpendicular to the material cross section on which it acts.

DAlemberts paradox

In fluid dynamics, d'Alembert's paradox is a contradiction reached in 1752 by French mathematician Jean le Rond d'Alembert. D'Alembert proved that – for incompressible and inviscid potential flow – the drag force is zero on a body moving with constant velocity relative to the fluid. Zero drag is in direct contradiction to the observation of substantial drag on bodies moving relative to fluids, such as air and water; especially at high velocities corresponding with high Reynolds numbers. It is a particular example of the reversibility paradox.

In continuum mechanics, a power-law fluid, or the Ostwald–de Waele relationship, is a type of generalized Newtonian fluid for which the shear stress, τ, is given by

In fluid dynamics, the Reynolds stress is the component of the total stress tensor in a fluid obtained from the averaging operation over the Navier–Stokes equations to account for turbulent fluctuations in fluid momentum.

Stokes flow Type of fluid flow

Stokes flow, also named creeping flow or creeping motion, is a type of fluid flow where advective inertial forces are small compared with viscous forces. The Reynolds number is low, i.e. . This is a typical situation in flows where the fluid velocities are very slow, the viscosities are very large, or the length-scales of the flow are very small. Creeping flow was first studied to understand lubrication. In nature this type of flow occurs in the swimming of microorganisms, sperm and the flow of lava. In technology, it occurs in paint, MEMS devices, and in the flow of viscous polymers generally.

Inviscid flow is the flow of an inviscid fluid, in which the viscosity of the fluid is equal to zero. Though there are limited examples of inviscid fluids, known as superfluids, inviscid flow has many applications in fluid dynamics. The Reynolds number of inviscid flow approaches infinity as the viscosity approaches zero. When viscous forces are neglected, such as the case of inviscid flow, the Navier–Stokes equation can be simplified to a form known as the Euler equation. This simplified equation is applicable to inviscid flow as well as flow with low viscosity and a Reynolds number much greater than one. Using the Euler equation, many fluid dynamics problems involving low viscosity are easily solved, however, the assumed negligible viscosity is no longer valid in the region of fluid near a solid boundary.

The intent of this article is to highlight the important points of the derivation of the Navier–Stokes equations as well as its application and formulation for different families of fluids.

Pressure-correction method is a class of methods used in computational fluid dynamics for numerically solving the Navier-Stokes equations normally for incompressible flows.

Volume viscosity is a material property relevant for characterizing fluid flow. Common symbols are or . It has dimensions, and the corresponding SI unit is the pascal-second (Pa·s).

The Cauchy momentum equation is a vector partial differential equation put forth by Cauchy that describes the non-relativistic momentum transport in any continuum.

The Herschel–Bulkley fluid is a generalized model of a non-Newtonian fluid, in which the strain experienced by the fluid is related to the stress in a complicated, non-linear way. Three parameters characterize this relationship: the consistency k, the flow index n, and the yield shear stress . The consistency is a simple constant of proportionality, while the flow index measures the degree to which the fluid is shear-thinning or shear-thickening. Ordinary paint is one example of a shear-thinning fluid, while oobleck provides one realization of a shear-thickening fluid. Finally, the yield stress quantifies the amount of stress that the fluid may experience before it yields and begins to flow.

Hydrodynamic stability

In fluid dynamics, hydrodynamic stability is the field which analyses the stability and the onset of instability of fluid flows. The study of hydrodynamic stability aims to find out if a given flow is stable or unstable, and if so, how these instabilities will cause the development of turbulence. The foundations of hydrodynamic stability, both theoretical and experimental, were laid most notably by Helmholtz, Kelvin, Rayleigh and Reynolds during the nineteenth century. These foundations have given many useful tools to study hydrodynamic stability. These include Reynolds number, the Euler equations, and the Navier–Stokes equations. When studying flow stability it is useful to understand more simplistic systems, e.g. incompressible and inviscid fluids which can then be developed further onto more complex flows. Since the 1980s, more computational methods are being used to model and analyse the more complex flows.

In fluid mechanics, non-dimensionalization of the Navier–Stokes equations is the conversion of the Navier–Stokes equation to a nondimensional form. This technique can ease the analysis of the problem at hand, and reduce the number of free parameters. Small or large sizes of certain dimensionless parameters indicate the importance of certain terms in the equations for the studied flow. This may provide possibilities to neglect terms in certain considered flow. Further, non-dimensionalized Navier–Stokes equations can be beneficial if one is posed with similar physical situations – that is problems where the only changes are those of the basic dimensions of the system.

The viscous stress tensor is a tensor used in continuum mechanics to model the part of the stress at a point within some material that can be attributed to the strain rate, the rate at which it is deforming around that point.


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Further reading