Fluids and Fluid-Structure Interaction

Fluid-structure interactions (FSI) are ubiquitous in nature and engineering. They occur at all scales from the swimming of microorganisms, elastocapillary collapse of MEMS or carbon nanotube forests, to the dynamical stability of offshore structures, and the catastrophic failure of solar drones. Complex nonlinear problems often arise when the deformation of a structure couples with the mechanics of a fluid through its surface tension, inertia, viscosity or other rheological properties. This diversity of FSI problems calls for a plethora of approaches and methodologies, including: reduced analytical models, scaling analyses, multiphysics numerical methods, and laboratory experiments. In particular, we focus on fluid-structure interactions where the aerodynamic or the hydrodynamic loading can induce large deformations of a flexible slender structures. We also sometimes apply our experimental methodology to study broader problems in fluid mechanics.

Topics that we have investigated in the area of fluid dynamics and fluid-structure interactions include: on-demand drag reduction of structures with morphable tography, grabbing water with a flexible structures, rapid fabrication of slender elastic shells by viscous coating, and buckling of bacterial flagella. A more detailed account of these examples and other problems is provided below.

Designing soft materials with interfacial instabilities in liquid films

with: J. Marthelot, E. F. Strong, and P.-T. Brun

Natural soft materials harness hierarchy and structures at all scales to build function. Adapting this paradigm to our technological needs, from mechanical, phononic and photonic metamaterials to functional surfaces prompts the development of new fabrication pathways with improved scalability, design flexibility and robustness. Here we show that the inherent periodicity of the Rayleigh–Taylor instability in thin polymeric liquid films can be harnessed to spontaneously fabricate structured materials. The fluidic instability yields pendant drops lattices, which become solid upon curing of the polymer, thereby permanently sculpting the interface of the material. We solve the inverse design problem, taming the instability, so that the structures we form can be tailored, over a range of sizes spanning over two decades. This all-in-one methodology could potentially be extended down to the scales where continuum mechanics breaks down, while remaining scalable.

• J. Marthelot, E. F. Strong, P. M. Reis, and P.-T. Brun, “Designing soft materials with interfacial instabilities in liquid films” Nature Communications, 9, 4477 (2018). [html, pdf]

• J. Marthelot, E. F. Strong, P. M. Reis, and P.-T. Brun, “Solid structures generated by capillary instability in thin liquid films” Phys. Rev. Fluids, 3, 100506 (2018). [html, pdf, poster]

Active aerodynamic drag reduction on morphable cylinders

with: M. Guttag

We study a mechanism for active aerodynamic drag reduction on morphable grooved cylinders, whose topography can be modified pneumatically. Our design is inspired by the morphology of the Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), which possesses an array of axial grooves, thought to help reduce aerodynamic drag, thereby enhancing the structural robustness of the plant under wind loading. Our analog experimental samples comprise a spoked rigid skeleton with axial cavities, covered by a stretched elastomeric film. Decreasing the inner pressure of the sample produces axial grooves, whose depth can be accurately varied, on demand. First, we characterize the relation between groove depth and pneumatic loading through a combination of precision mechanical experiments and finite element simulations. Second, wind tunnel tests are used to measure the aerodynamic drag coefficient (as a function of Reynolds number) of the grooved samples, with different levels of periodicity and groove depths. We focus specifically on the drag crisis and systematically measure the associated minimum drag coefficient and the critical Reynolds number at which it occurs. The results are in agreement with the classic literature of rough cylinders, albeit with an unprecedented level of precision and resolution in varying topography using a single sample. Finally, we leverage the morphable nature of our system to dynamically reduce drag for varying aerodynamic loading conditions. We demonstrate that actively controlling the groove depth yields a drag coefficient that decreases monotonically with Reynolds number and is significantly lower than the fixed sample counterparts. These findings open the possibility for the drag reduction of grooved cylinders to be operated over a wide range of flow conditions.

• M. Guttag and P.M. Reis, “Active aerodynamic drag reduction on morphable cylinders” Phys. Rev. Fluids, 2, 123903 (2017). [html, pdf]

Aeroelastic deformation of a perforated strip

with: M. Guttag, H. H. Karimi, and C. Falcónel

We perform a combined experimental and numerical investigation into the static deformation of perforated elastic strips under uniform aerodynamic loading at high-Reynolds-number conditions. The static shape of the porous strips, clamped either horizontally or vertically, is quantified as they are deformed by wind loading, induced by a horizontal flow. The experimental profiles are compared to numerical simulations using a reduced model that takes into account the normal drag force on the deformed surface. For both configurations (vertical and horizontal clamping), we compute the drag coefficient of the strip, by fitting the experimental data to the model, and find that it decreases as a function of porosity. Surprisingly, we find that, for every value of porosity, the drag coefficients for the horizontal configuration are larger than those of the vertical configuration. For all data in both configurations, with the exception of the continuous strip clamped vertically, a linear relation is found between the porosity and drag. Making use of this linearity, we can rescale the drag coefficient in a way that it becomes constant as a function of the Cauchy number, which relates the force due to fluid loading on the elastic strip to its bending rigidity, independently of the material properties and porosity of the strip and the flow speed. Our findings on flexible strips are contrasted to previous work on rigid perforated plates. These results highlight some open questions regarding the usage of reduced models to describe the deformation of flexible structures subjected to aerodynamic loading.

• M. Guttag, H.H. Karimi, C. Falcón, and P.M. Reis, “Aeroelastic deformation of a perforated strip” Phys. Rev. Fluids, 3, 014003 (2018). [html, pdf]

Wrinkling on curved surfaces &
Smorphs: smart morphable surface for aerodynamic drag reduction

with: Denis Terwagne, Miha Brojan, Romain Lagrange, Norbert Stoop, Jorn Dunkel

We have devised a new class of Smart Morphable Surfaces, which we refer to as Smorphs, that make use of a wrinkling instability on curved surfaces to generate custom, switchable and tunable topography. Our experiments show that surface curvature qualitatively affects the wrinkled pattern, when compared to flat film-substrate systems. Inspired by the resemblance of our dimpled patterns and those of golf balls, we have characterized their aerodynamic performance and found that the drag coefficient can be reduced, on demand, by up to a factor of two.

A particularly novel aspect of our Smorphs is that complex topography can be rapidly activated with a single pressure signal and their actuation speed is only limited by how fast the depressurization can be set. The fast elastic response of our mechanism opens the possibility of on demand and dynamic drag control. We envision that our Smorphs could find applications in a variety of aerodynamic structures. Strategically reducing the overall drag on the outer-body shell of automobiles or aircraft could potentially lead to enhanced fuel efficiency; a timely priority for these industries.

A video of one of our Smorphs in action can be found here: [Movie]

• D. Terwagne, M. Brojan and P.M. Reis, “Smart Morphable Surfaces for Aerodynamic Drag Control” Adv. Mater. DOI: 10.1002/adma.201401403 (2014). [html, pdf]. (Supplementary Information [html, pdf]). Cover Story [html,pdf].
• N. Stoop, R. Lagrange, D. Terwagne, P.M. Reis and J. Dunkel, “Curvature-induced symmetry breaking selects elastic surface patterns” Nature Materials, 14, 337–342 (2015). [html, pdf] (Supplementary Information, [html, pdf]).
• M. Brojan, D. Terwagne. R. Lagrange, P.M. Reis, “Wrinkling crystallography on spherical surfaces” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 112, 14-19 (2014). [html, pdf].
• R. Lagrange, F. López Jiménez, D. Terwagne, M. Brojan, and P.M. Reis, “From wrinkling to global buckling of a ring on a curved substrate” J. Mech. Phys. Solids 89, 77-95 (2016). [html, pdf].

Press Coverage:
• “Des surfaces transformables qui diminuent la résistance de l’air”, Ma Voie Scientifique, 6/15/2015.
• Sarah Lewin, “A grand theory of wrinkles” Quanta Mazagine, 04/8/2015.
• Sean Bailly, “Comment se forment les rides?” Pour la Science, 03/13/2015.
• Jennifer Chu, “Wrinkle predictions” MIT News 02/02/2015.
• David L. Chandler “Morphable Surfaces could cut air resistance.” MIT News, 06/24/14. [MIT homepage spotlight]; Hal Hodson “Morphing dimpled skin could help cars reduce drag” New Scientist, 07/02/14. Joseph Bennington-Castro “Smart Morphable Surfaces Can Dimple At Will, Reducing Air Drag” Materials 360 Online, 07/10/14. “Could man-made ‘skin’ be the future of super fast cars?” Daily Mail, 06/30/2014. KIJK (in Dutch).

How Cats Lap: Water uptake by Felis catus

with: Sunny Jung, Jeff Aristoff and Roman Stocker

Have you ever wondered how a cat drinks? Various animals have developed a range of drinking strategies depending on physiological and environmental constraints. Vertebrates with incomplete cheeks use their tongue to drink; the most common example is the lapping of cats and dogs. We have shown that the domestic cat (Felis catus) laps by a subtle mechanism based on water adhesion to the dorsal side of the tongue. A combined experimental and theoretical analysis reveals that Felis catus exploits fluid inertia to defeat gravity and pull liquid into the mouth. This competition between inertia and gravity sets the lapping frequency and yields a prediction for the dependence of frequency on animal mass. Measurements of lapping frequency across the family Felidae support this prediction, which suggests that the lapping mechanism is conserved among felines.

How does a cat drink? (slowed down 12x) [Movie]
And now even slower? (slowed down 67x) [Movie]
The physical experiments. [Movie]


• P.M. Reis, S. Jung, J. Aristoff and R. Stocker, “How Cats Lap: Water uptake by Felis catus” Science 330 , 1231 (2010), Cover Story [html,pdf]. Supporting Online Material [html, pdf].
• J.M. Aristoff, R. Stocker, P.M. Reis and S. Jung, “On the water-lapping of felines and the water-running of lizards: a unifying physical perspective” Communicative & Integrative Biology 4:2, 1 (2010) [html, pdf].
• R. Stocker, S. Jung, J. Aristoff and P.M. Reis, Response to Comment on ”How Cats Lap: Water Uptake by Felis catus”, Science 334, 331-c (2011), [html, pdf] (original Comment by M. Nauenberg, [html, pdf])

Press Coverage:
New York Times (front page), Washington Post (front page), Boston Globe (front page), Philadelphia Inquirer (front page), Los Angeles Times.
BBC News, Scientific American, Science News, Science Now, Nature News, Wired, Time, CNN, MSNBC, CBS News, ABC News, Reuters, Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Physics Today, Discovery News, Discover Magazine, Encyclopedia Britannica.
• The Telegraph (UK), The Guardian (UK), Toronto Star (Canada), Der Spiegel (Germany), Focus (Germany), NU (Netherlands), Le Monde (France), Le Figaro (France), Science & Vie (France), El Mundo (Spain), ABC (Spain), La Repubblica (Italy), Sydney Morning News (Australia), Asahi (Japan), Sábado (Portugal), Ciência Hoje (Portugal), Veja (Brazil), Ciência Hoje (Brazil), iG (Brazil), Folha de São Paulo (Brazil).
MIT News, MIT Homepage Spotlight.
All Things Considered (National Public Radio).
Quirks ‘n’ Quarks (Canadian Broadcasting Company Radio).
Deutschlandfunk Radio.
• World Today (BBC World Service).
• For Kids: ScienceNews For Kids, GeekMom, New York Times Learning Blog,

ARLO & JANIS, by Jimmy Johnson, Boston Globe (27 May 2014)

Grabbing Water

with: Jérémy Hure, Sunny Jung, John Bush and Christophe Clanet

We introduce a novel technique for grabbing water with a flexible solid. This new passive pipetting mechanism was inspired by floating flowers and relies purely on the coupling of the elasticity of thin plates and the hydrodynamic forces at the liquid interface. Developing a theoretical model has enabled us to design petal-shaped objects with maximum grabbing capacity.

How to grab a bubble of air? [Movie]
How to grab a drop of water? [Movie]


• P.M. Reis, J. Hure, S. Jung, J.W.M. Bush and C. Clanet, “Grabbing Water” Soft Matter 6, 5705 (2010) [html, pdf] (selected as a ‘hot article‘).

Press Coverage:
• Nature’s pipettes, Highlights in Chemical Technology, Royal Society of Chemistry, Nov 22nd 2010.
• Selected as a ‘hot article‘ by the journal Soft Matter.
Cocktail novelties inspired by nature’s designs, Jennifer Chu, MIT News, Nov 6th, 2013.
What The Tech?: MIT Created A Bug-Like Device That Slowly Adds Alcohol To Your Beverage, Steve Annear, Boston Globe, November 20th, 2013.

The Clapping Book

with: Peter Buchack, Christophe Eloy

We present a hybrid experimental and theoretical study on the oscillatory behavior exhibited by multiple thin sheets under aerodynamic loading. Our clapping book consists of a stack of paper, clamped at the downstream end, placed in a wind tunnel with steady flow. As pages lift off, they accumulate onto a bent stack held up by the wind. The book collapses shut once the elasticity and weight of the pages overcome the aerodynamic force; this process repeats periodically. We develop a theoretical model that predictively describes this periodic clapping process.

A movie of this Clapping process can be found [here].


•P. Buchak, C. Eloy and P.M. Reis, “The Clapping Book: wind-driven oscillations in a stack of elastic sheets” Phys. Rev. Lett., 105 194301(2010) [html, pdf].

Press Coverage:
• Book Clapping, Loh Down on Science, Southern California Public Radio, July 28, 2011. [MP3].
The Case of the Clapping Book, National Public Radio, December 26th, 2011.