Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics

First Advisor

Arratia E. Paulo


The flow of complex fluids, especially those containing polymers, is ubiquitous in nature and industry. From blood, plastic melts, to airway mucus, the presence of microstructures such as particles, proteins, and polymers, can impart nonlinear material properties not found in simple fluids like water. These rheological behaviors, in particular viscoelasticity, can give rise to flow anomalies found in industrial settings and intriguing transport dynamics in biological systems.

The first part of my work focuses on the flow of viscoelastic fluids in physical systems. Here, I investigate the flow instabilities of viscoelastic fluids in three different geometries and configurations. Realized in microfluidic channels, these experiments mimic flows encountered in technology spanning the oil extraction, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries. In particular, by conducting high-speed velocimetry on the flow of polymeric fluid in a micro-channel, we report evidence of elastic turbulence in a parallel shear flow where the streamline is without curvature. These turbulent-like characteristics include activation of the flow at many time scales, anomalous increase in flow resistance, and enhanced mixing associated with the polymeric flow. Moreover, the spectral characteristics and spatial structures of the velocity fluctuations are different from that in a curved geometry. Measured using novel holographic particle tracking, Lagrangian trajectories show spanwise dispersion and modulations, akin to the traveling waves in the turbulent pipe flow of Newtonian fluids. These curvature perturbations far downstream can generate sufficient hoop stresses to sustain the flow instabilities in the parallel shear flow.

The second part of the thesis focuses on the motility and transport of active swimmers in viscoelastic fluids that are relevant to biological systems and human health. In particular, by analyzing the swimming of the bi-flagellated green algae {\it Chlamydomonas reinhardtii} in viscoelastic fluid, we show that fluid elasticity enhances the flagellar beating frequency and the wave speed. Yet the net swimming speed of the alga is hindered for fluids that are sufficiently elastic. The origin of this complex response lies in the non-trivial change in flagellar gait due to elasticity. Numerical simulations show that such change in gait reduces elastic stress build up in the fluid and increases efficiency. These results further illustrate the complex coupling between fluid rheology and swimming gait in the motility of micro-organisms and other biological processes such as mucociliary clearance in mammalian airways.

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