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A Laser Based Flow Visualization System For Fluid Mechanics Instruction

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.46.1 - 10.46.6



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Paper Authors

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John Crimaldi

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Daniel Knight

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Division of Experimental and Laboratory Oriented Studies Session 1526

A Laser-Based Flow Visualization System for Fluid Mechanics Instruction

John P. Crimaldi, Daniel W. Knight

University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado 80309


An interactive turbulent water flow facility and laser-based flow visualization system are used to reinforce fundamental concepts in the instruction of fluid mechanics. For this pilot study, the laboratory instructional module was incorporated into a single topic within the curriculum of a graduate-level fluid mechanics course. The laboratory treatment was used in addition to a traditional lecture-based treatment of the topic. Assessment methods including a content knowledge test and attitude surveys were used to examine the impact of the module on student learning and interest in engineering. Results revealed that the instructional module had added value over the lecture for increasing students’ content knowledge (+50%). In addition, the visualization module received a significantly higher rating on the attitude survey than the lecture method for level of enjoyment, learning of content, and the development of interest in engineering.


One of the principal challenges of teaching fluid mechanics is the level of abstraction that comes with the subject. Students tend to be more familiar with, and have better intuition for, the behavior of solids. Fluids move in complex and beautiful patterns, but the flow is often difficult to see with the naked eye. Despite the fact that we spend our lives immersed in a fluid (air), many fundamental fluid behaviors remain unfamiliar to students due to the difficulty in observing them. For example, we tell students that air in the classroom is turbulent, yet their acceptance of this is more an act of faith than an act of learning. Some fluid flow phenomena are more readily visible in liquids than in gasses, but this is usually true only at a free surface (an interface between a liquid and a gas), where flow-induced deformations of the free surface reveal information about the flow. Away from the free surface, most flow phenomena (e.g. turbulence, flow around obstacles, boundary layers, etc.) remain essentially invisible. To counter the level of abstraction associated with difficulties in viewing fluid motion, we built an interactive flow facility with a laser-based visualization system that enables students to directly observe a wide range of flow phenomena. The present research effort is a pilot study of the impact of the facility on student learning and attitudes. Students were exposed to content on the topic of

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Crimaldi, J., & Knight, D. (2005, June), A Laser Based Flow Visualization System For Fluid Mechanics Instruction Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15052

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