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Dr Christina Vanderwel BSc, MASc, PhD

Associate Professor in Experimental Fluid Mechanics

Dr Christina Vanderwel's photo

Christina Vanderwel is an Associate Professor and UKRI Future Leaders Fellow in the Aerodynamics and Astronautics Department at the University of Southampton.

She specialises in experimental fluid mechanics, turbulence, and dispersion. In particular, her research involves conducting laboratory experiments using laser-based diagnostics to study the mechanisms of transport of turbulent flows.

2015-2017: Marie Curie Research Fellow, University of Southampton.

2014: PhD in Mechanical Engineering, “Turbulent Diffusion in Uniformly Sheared Flow”, University of Ottawa, Canada. *Winner of the Pierre Laberge Award for outstanding achievement in Science and Engineering.

2009: MASc in Mechanical Engineering, “Coherent Structures in Uniformly Sheared Turbulent Flow“, University of Ottawa, Canada.

2007: BSc (Hons.) in Mechanical Engineering, Queen’s University, Canada.

Research interests

My research focusses on studying the mechanisms of mass and momentum transport in turbulent flows. My aim is to understand how coherent structures are fundamental building blocks of turbulence and how they contribute to the enhanced mixing and dispersion associated with turbulent flows.

As a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow, I am currently applying my research to simulating urban air pollution in the lab. The aim of this project is to apply novel laboratory techniques to simulate wind patterns and air pollution in urban areas. These experiments will provide cutting-edge measurements that will improve our capability to model and predict urban air quality.

Experimental Fluid Mechanics Lab

The University of Southampton has a wide selection of experimental fluid mechanics facilities which includes several wind tunnels, water tunnels, and a large towing tank, located in the Tizard Building on Highfield Campus and the new development at Bolderwood campus. These facilities can generate a variety of flows, including flows over custom landscape models, turbulent boundary layers, shear flows and flows around different structures. Laser-based diagnostics such as particle image velocimetry (PIV) provide measurements of the flow velocity field. In addition, we are always working on developing and improving the technique of planar laser-induced fluorescence (PLIF) to measure the concentration of fluorescent dyes released in the flow.

The water tunnel flow facility
The water tunnel flow facility

Dispersion in turbulent flows

In a world with increased urbanisation and industrialisation, pollution is a global problem with a serious impact on health and climate that crosses political boundaries. However, in order to improve methods of tracing and predicting the movement of pollution in the atmosphere and waterways, we need to better understand the fundamental mechanisms of transport in turbulent flows. This can be best accomplished in the lab where we can impose ideal conditions and utilise state-of-the-art measurement techniques. In particular, planar laser-induced fluorescence (PLIF) is a powerful technique for quantitatively measuring the concentration of fluorescent dye released in turbulent flow using non-obtrusive methods. Using PLIF, we can measure the dispersion of a fluorescent dye acting as a proxy for pollution in a range of flows including channel flows, flows over complex terrain, industrial flows, and flows simulating indoor ventilation systems.

PLIF measurement of a passive plume in a uniform turbulent flow
PLIF measurement of a passive plume in a uniform turbulent flow

The structure of turbulent shear flows and boundary layers

Turbulent flows consist of a range of scales of vortices and eddies where the largest most-dominant repeating vortex patterns are known as coherent structures. Coherent structures act as mechanisms for turbulent transport and contain a substantial proportion of the turbulence energy. This research is interested in identifying the large-scale structures of different turbulent flows and how they vary due to the flow conditions. Flows of interest range from idealised turbulent shear flows to turbulent boundary layers developing over complex surfaces. Application of this research includes pollution transport modelling, drag prediction, and weather forecasting.

PIV image of the boundary layer flow over a complex surface
PIV image of the boundary layer flow over a complex surface

PhD supervision

Takfarinas Medjnoun

Matthew Coburn

Research Project

Modelling gases: Our research is improving the urban environment

Research group

Aerodynamics and Flight Mechanic (AFM)

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Current :

SESA6061 Turbulence

SESA6070 Experimental Methods


FEEG1003 Thermofluids

FEEG3011: Introduction to Turbulence and Mixing

SESA2023: Propulsion

Vehicle exhaust experiment

The exhausts of automobiles are a major source of outdoor air pollution. This student project investigated the fluid dynamics of automobile exhausts to see how quickly the exhaust spreads in the wake of the vehicle. This is of concern to gauge the exposure of pedestrians and cyclists as well as for people living in houses located near roads. The project studied how the exhaust interacts with the wake of the vehicle by doing an experiment with a scale model of a vehicle in a water tunnel and using a dye to trace out the path of the exhaust.

Vehicle exhuast expriment
Vehicle exhuast expriment

Velocity (left) and concentration (right) measurements in the wake of a model vehicle. Flow is from left to right. Credit: Jun Wei Chan

Air pollution simulation

The city of Southampton has been criticized for having some of the poorest air quality in the UK. The city suffers from a number of pollution sources including the ship docks, the airport, automobile traffic, and industrial plants. The goal of this project is to model air pollution from these sources around the city and to estimate how they spread across the city. This project applies knowledge of CFD methods and how to model aerodynamic flows and work with wind data. The output of this project has helped provide recommendations to local industry to tackle air pollution in the city.

Air pollution simulation
Air pollution simulation

Typical wind rose for the city of Southampton (left). Map of the dispersion of pollution from shipping sources on a typical day (right). Credit: Polly Harte

Indoor air pollution experiment

With the current trend for increased urbanization, indoor air quality is an important concern for public health. The design of modern heating and ventilation systems is therefore taking this more and more into consideration. This student project studied the path of a contaminant in the flow around a confined room. The experiment used a water tank to model the air flow in the interior space, utilizing Reynolds number similarity to relate the measurements in water to the flow that would occur in air. A fluorescent dye was injected in the water tank as a tracer to model the dispersion of airborne contaminants in the confined space.

Indoor air pollution experiement

Experiment designed and built to study flow patterns in a confined room using PIV. Credit: Joshua Cormack Butler

Dr Christina Vanderwel
Southampton Boldrewood Innovation Campus
University of Southampton
Building 176
Burgess Road
SO16 7QF

Room Number : 176/5015/B1

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