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Engineering and the Environment

Understanding the physics of turbulent flows inside turbines of aero-engines

2 April 2014

Researchers from the University of Southampton are aiming to shed new light into the physics of turbulent flows inside the turbines of aero-engines.

The aerodynamics of the turbine blades affects the efficiency of the engine, while the heat transfer from the extremely hot gas to the turbine blades is harmful to the life-span of the turbine.

To determine the effects of turbulence and flow unsteadiness on the aerodynamics and the heat transfer from the gas to the metal blade, it is necessary to understand all the temporal and spatial scales in the flow.

However, experimental measurements have, to date, not been able to provide data with enough depth to identify all the fundamental mechanisms and to explain weaknesses of currently used design tools, due to the difficulties of performing engine-scale experiments and acquiring spatially and temporally resolved data. 

The Southampton research team, led by Richard Sandberg, Professor of Fluid Dynamics and Aeroacoustics, and including Dr Andrew Wheeler and Professor Neil Sandham, has identified that Direct Numerical Simulations (DNS), a model-free approach based on first principles (no assumptions or modelling are used) can help to develop an improved understanding of the role of turbulent phenomena in the flow-field and determine the validity of current turbulence modelling.

To further this research, the team has been awarded 35 million hours of computing time on a supercomputer in Stuttgart, Germany, through a grant from the Partnership of Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE). The team has also received a grant in the US for another 10 million CPU hours on the world's second fastest supercomputer (Titan) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The combined allocation, corresponding to more than 5,000 years of computing on a single processor, will be used to perform simulations of flow through turbines of aero-engines.

Professor Sandberg says: "For this project, we will use software which has been developed at Southampton and is proven to be highly efficient for large parallelised computations. The results will provide a valuable benchmark that can be used to validate and improve current and future modelling of turbulence. The accuracy of such turbulence models is crucial to the development of high performance aero-engines."

The project is in close collaboration with world-leading aircraft engine provider GE, who are providing technical support and will play an integral part in the analysis of the data. GE will be able to implement the results of this work throughout their international aero-engine business and therefore this work, besides resulting in scientific publications in leading journals, also has the potential to deliver a significant change to global aviation.


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    Notes for editors

    1. The attached image shows turbulent flow through a linear low-pressure turbine cascade at real engine conditions.

    2. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship across a wide range of subjects in engineering, science, social sciences, health and humanities.  

    With over 23,000 students, around 5000 staff, and an annual turnover well in excess of £435 million, the University of Southampton is acknowledged as one of the country's top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine. We combine academic excellence with an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to research, supporting a culture that engages and challenges students and staff in their pursuit of learning.

    3. About GE

    GE (NYSE: GE) works on things that matter. The best people and the best technologies taking on the toughest challenges. Finding solutions in energy, health and home, transportation and finance. Building, powering, moving and curing the world. Not just imagining. Doing. GE works. For more information, visit the company's website at

    About GE Global Research

    GE Global Research is the hub of technology development for all of GE's businesses. Our scientists and engineers redefine what's possible, drive growth for our businesses, and find answers to some of the world's toughest problems. We innovate 24 hours a day, with sites in Niskayuna, New York; San Ramon, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Munich, Germany; Bangalore, India; Shanghai, China; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More info at

    About GE in Europe

    For more than 100 years GE has been investing in growing its presence across Europe. Today we employ over 90,000 people in Europe and have a footprint that covers every corner of the continent. GE in the UK employs around 18,000 people that serve the energy, oil and gas, healthcare, aerospace and financial industries. Our locations in the UK include London, Aberdeen, Amersham, Cardiff, Cheltenham, Leicester, Nailsea and Southampton.

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