Photograph by Sadatoshi Taneda 


Watch this two-minute video for a quick introduction of the project!

Project Motivation, Needs, and Goals

In the world of Aerodynamics, there are various phenomenons that are crucial yet intriguing. During undergraduate studies while taking the course, we had the chance to study those effects theoretically, either on paper or with computer programs, yet lack the opportunity to see in person how those phenomenons were created. The goal of this project is to serve as an assistance tool while learning these concepts, by visualizing those aerodynamic phenomenons, such as:

- Boundary Layer Separation(flow separation?)
- Karman Vortex Sheet
- Trailing Tip Vortices
- Vortex Rings

with a self-designed flow visualization system.

The budget for this project is reasonably within a few hundred dollars, which makes it achievable for most college students to complete as a research and design project. Meanwhile, all the necessary equipments and materials can be either bought easily online or 3D printed.

Learning Objectives

The following project was developed during the Spring 2021 semester to support the learning of Aerodynamic phenomenons. These modules consisted of tasks that would develop student skills in structural design, structure assembling, flow analysis, aerodynamics, etc.

This project has four phases.

By design, each phase corresponds to the level of theoretical aerodynamics knowledge and experimental skills, and each phase serves as a crucial stepstone for the next phase. Therefore, it is crucial to perform each phase to ensure the successful completion of project.

Note: This is an ongoing project and the content in this page only serves as a guidance. The following sections focus mainly on the first two phases and give a vision and potential content for the Advanced and Expert phase of the project. You may modify and improve your own design based on your vision and understanding of the goal for this project. 


This phase can be easily comprehended for those who has some basic knowledge in Fluid Dynamics. It serves as a capstone of the project, by providing essential tools and backgrounds for the following sections of this project. 

A detailed introduction of all the supporting aerodynamic knowledge for this project can be found in the following link.

(you only need to read Chapter 1 to finish this section). 

Flow Visualization Methods


In experimental Aerodynamics, there are various ways to visualize aerodynamic phenomenons, such as wind tunnel, smoke, particle tracer methods, optical photography.

However, most of these methods are either hard to access as a student research project or requires a rather high budget for a college student. Therefore, the flow visualization method used in this project provides a more achievable yet efficient method. 

This project uses rheoscopic fluid to visualize flow around the subject. The fluid can be made by simply mixing the concentrate with tap water. 



In the beginner phase of the project, you have learned most of the knowledge necessary to perform some real aerodynamic calculations. Section 2 of the Fundamentals of Aerodynamics website would be a great resource for this phase of the project. The intermediate phase of this project requires a substantial amount of background knowledge in Fluid Dynamics in order to complete the assignments in this section. 

Flow Visualization System Design

Besides the comprehension of fundamental aerodynamic knowledges, another crucial part of this section of the project is to design an efficient fluid dispensing and flow visualization system.  

The design sketch you need to complete in this section includes three parts: A fluid reservoir, a fluid dispensing system, and a flow visualization system. The following paragraph gives a description of current design in this project, students may modify and improve their own design.

A pump with a maximum flow rate of 80GPH (Gallon per hour) is mounted in the container which feeds the fluid from the reservoir into the fluid dispensing system. The fluid dispensing system includes a fluid chamber at upstream, flow straighteners at downstream, and an on/off valve in between. The flow visualization system is made of a hardboard with pins to hold various geometries in place. The geometries (2D cross sections) studied include rectangle, circle, NACA0012 airfoil, NACA0012 with flap, and NACA0012 with slat. 


Subjects Investigation

The subjects you can investigate include but not limited to rectangle, cylinder, airfoil, and high lift devices as shown in figure 2 and 3 below. 


In this section, the main goal is to find proper materials and start building the system you have designed in the past two phases. Meanwhile, some data collection techniques needs to be considered. 

Basic Data Collections

After the flow dispensing and visualization systems are built, you can start investigating different geometries and how they affect the flow movement. 

One way of investigating the results is to take some pictures from top view with some measurements, such as vortices spacing, to compare to theoretical results you calculated in the past two phases. 


This section can be conducted based on your own needs, and may require a higher budget. Including but not limited to data collection using more advanced techniques, such as optical photography. 

You can also investigate some more aerodynamic effects of your interest, such as comparison of laminar and turbulent flow, vortices pair over triangle wing. (The following visuals are collected by Professor Donald Bliss at Duke University and the original authors are mentioned below the visuals)



About the Author

I am a first year Master’s student in the Mechanical Engineering and Material Science department with Aerospace Graduate Certificate at Duke University. Prior to his graduate career at Pratt, I graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.S. in Engineering Mechanics–Aeronautics, with a minor in Physics. My main research focus is experimental aerodynamics. 

I am also working in Aeroelasticity group at Duke University School of Engineering. The goal of the research I am conducting is to study unsteady pressure measured from upper and lower surface of the airfoil, and analyze data obtained from experiments, therefore understand to understand the principles behind induced nonsynchronous vibrations that could cause wing and turbine failure.