Fluid Research Teaches Us How Human Body Must Go with the Flow; Dr Clare Wood Is a Lecturer in the College of Engineering at Swansea University. Her Research Focuses on Computational Simulation of Fluids and Structures for Novel Applications in Engineering, Medicine and Biosciences

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CAN you imagine a world without some of the science and engineering innovations of the last 50 years? No internet, silicon chip technology, fibre optic communications, mobile phones or DNA sequencing.

It was the UK that led so much of this cutting-edge research and it is the UK that must push towards the next scientific, engineering or medical breakthrough if we want to be a player in the research and industrial innovations of the next 50 years.

It might surprise some people to learn that Swansea University is a world leader in something called computational engineering research.

Fundamental techniques such as the Finite Element Method were first pioneered here more than 40 years ago and today we are still going strong.

My own research focuses on multidisciplinary problems - that is, problems that involve two or more physical phenomena or problems at the same time.

A typical example is fluid-structure interaction - the fluid could be water, blood, air and so on whilst the structure could be part of a machine or aircraft, a building or part of the human body.

Very often the way a fluid moves is closely related to the behaviour of some structure or body that it is in physical contact with.

For example, you can see fluid-structure interaction in real life in tall buildings and bridge decks as they sway because of the wind, in the oscillation of aircraft wings due to the airflow over them during flight, or in the flapping or inflation of fabric or membrane-type structures such as sails and car airbags.

Inside our bodies there are many different types of fluid-structure interaction - a wonderful example is the flow of blood through the heart as it expands and contracts, forcing the valves open and closed.

To simulate these types of behaviour it is necessary to set up a computer program which constantly communicates information between the solvers for the fluid flow problem and the structure problem until a point of balance between the fluid and the structure is reached. One of the things that I find most exciting about my work is the diversity of potential applications for multidisciplinary computational modelling and the fact that it often involves collaboration with experts from non-engineering backgrounds. …