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Fluid mechanics

Fluid mechanics is the branch of physics concerned with the mechanics of fluids (liquids, gases, and plasmas) and the forces on them. 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. 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. Particle image velocimetry, an experimental method for visualizing and analyzing fluid flow, also takes advantage of the highly visual nature of fluid flow.

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 is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that deals with fluid flow´the science of liquids and gases in motion. 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 (the study of air and other gases in motion) and hydrodynamics (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.

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. 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 for all ranges of Knudsen numbers.

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.

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 a gas is incompressible´that is, the density of the gas does not change even though the speed and static pressure change.

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.