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Blown Away
The largest wind tunnel of its kind has lots of applications

By Beth Potier
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UNH's newest building is architecturally bland, geographically isolated and houses no students or faculty. It's a big empty box of wind, which is precisely what makes it so exciting to UNH mechanical engineering professors Joe Klewicki, Martin Wosnick and Chris White.

That building--the Flow Physics Facility--is the largest wind tunnel of its type in the world. With twin 400-horsepower fans that move 250,000 cubic feet of air per minute, it will help engineers and scientists better understand the swirls and eddies of turbulence that occur as wind or water passes near an object like an airplane, submarine or even the Earth itself. At 20 feet wide by 300 feet long, the Flow Physics Facility is three times larger than any other similar facility.

Compared to supersonic and hypersonic wind tunnels, where the air can travel at thousands of feet per second, UNH's tunnel creates wind at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. That's still a gust that would make a pedestrian grab her hat, and it's perfect, when generated over a long distance, for measuring what's called boundary layer turbulence. An example is the aerodynamics of an airplane wing's junction with the fuselage--of keen interest to aircraft companies because of fuel economy.

Klewicki, who is the director of the Center for Fluid Physics, and colleagues from UNH and beyond might also use the $3 million facility to predict how the release of a chemical into the atmosphere behaves around buildings, or to study how water flows over a submarine. And because the facility's wind speeds are comparable to those humans might experience, the tunnel can be used to study the aerodynamics of bicycling, skiing or other sports. Kinesiology assistant professor Dain LaRoche '96, for example, is planning to study the aerodynamics of elite cyclists in the tunnel.

Wosnick, who helped design the tunnel with Klewicki, White and research professor Jim Forsythe, expects the wind tunnel research will produce a giant leap in the understanding of flows over surfaces. The classic models of turbulence date to the 1930s and '40s, he notes. "This new facility will help us test new theories for the first time," he says.

So, engineers, hold on to your hats.

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