Understanding the Coupled Interactions Between Hair-Like Micromechanoreceptors and Wall Turbulence


This research focuses on understanding the interactions between turbulent flows and long (high aspect ratio), flexible hair-like microstructures or micropillars inspired by those encountered in nature. Some examples include lateral line sensors in fish, airflow sensors in bats and hair cover of animals such as seals and bats. These structures perform several physiological functions such as balance and equilibrium sensors, flow sensors, flight control sensors, thermal regulators and water harvesters. Particularly, hair-cell sensors have such structures which in conjunction with the animal's nervous system forms a mechanoreceptive device i.e., they turn a force or displacement, in response to the flow energy, into a nervous system response. These structures that vibrate in response to the background flow are also important in energy harvesting systems. However, these interactions are poorly understood primarily due to the complexity of the underlying physics. Capturing this physics requires simultaneous, combined measurements of the micropillar motion and the flow velocities which are challenging. The proposed research will use advanced image-based flow diagnostic tools to measure in detail the interactions between arrays of these micropillars and the background flow. The planned outreach activities will target a group that is almost exclusively comprised of students who are under-represented in the sciences, while also being economically disadvantaged. The graduate student supported will be involved in outreach activities, inculcating a spirit of outreach into the next generation of engineers. The interactions between wall turbulence and these micropillars occur in the following manner. Flow structures of scales spanning several orders of magnitude, present within wall turbulence, excites the response of the micropillars. The deflection or vibratory response of the micropillars will then feedback and modify the non-linear, background turbulence, resulting in a non-linearly coupled system. In addition, this interaction occurring at the wall can affect the entire layer resulting in a multiscale interacting layer. Of particular interest are energy transfer pathways between the micropillars and the background turbulence. To describe this coupled interaction and the associated energy transfer mechanisms, advanced diagnostic tools such as multi-camera, multi-resolution, mosaicing particle image velocimetry will be used to capture the dynamics of the background flow while simultaneously tracking the motion of relevant micropillars using particle tracking techniques. Together these tools will provide unique multiscale measurements that will elucidate the coupled physics, advancing fields ranging from physiology to aerospace engineering to non-linear energy systems.

Scroll down for content