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Research in the engineering focuses on creating synthetic jet modeled after jellyfish propulsion

Engineers are frequently turning out new technologies, and some find inspiration in elements of nature to mimic. In the engineering department at Washington State University Vancouver, Associate Professor Stephen Solovitz, Ph.D. is working on developing a synthetic jet that is based on the propulsion mechanics of jellyfish.

Normal water jets, similar to those used in pressure washers, are typically fed by a source, such as a pressurized municipal water system, so that the stream can be held constant. In synthetic jets, there is no source; built-in mechanical devices produce it. This technology has been explored by various companies including General Electric and Boeing, as well as at several universities across the globe; those designs are what Solovitz aims to improve. Applications for this type of system are widespread and include electronics cooling, flow control and heat transfer. One of Solovitz’s primary focuses is electronics cooling.

Having an artificial jet reduces the need for external resources. This simplifies systems and allows for an increase in the number of potential applications. One example Solovitz gave was changing the stall angle of a plane. Artificial jets are designed to affect large-scale changes in a system with little input; this allows the device to modify the angle to allow for a greater flexibility of plane maneuvers.

Solovitz got his start with artificial jets as an intern with Boeing in 1995 and brought the subject to WSU Vancouver with him. He has been involved with the research off-and-on ever since. Within the last five years, he has become more active with it, and in just the last year it Solovitz said it “has really taken off” thanks to the efforts of Spencer Albright, one of Solovitz’s graduate students. Albright was able to compile large amounts of information gained from several previous experiments and convert all the data into solid amounts of progress. At this time, there are no undergraduate students working on this project, but there have been several in the past who laid the foundation for the current level of progress. Solovitz intends to continue the research for as long as it continues to be successful. He is currently working on a proposal with a colleague from Turkey for a micro-cooling system using this technology.

The current design uses various pneumatic cylinders, a camera iris, various tubing and valves in order to operate. It has been installed in a test section, which allows the to be operation and analysis utilizing campus research facilities. In a test section, minute changes in the speed and direction of particles in a fluid are measured using lasers. This information can then be fed into a computer for analysis, which provides a visual representation of the operation of the device.

Continued work on this research is focusing on the areas of miniaturization, speed and application. Currently the device is quite large and the groundwork has been laid to begin to miniaturize the design. There are also plans for a graduate student from Turkey to come to WSU Vancouver to conduct experiments in the facilities on campus. The current design operates effectively, but works slowly. Since Solovitz has a focus in electronics cooling, he has observed that the device would have difficulties in maintaining thermal properties in electronics without an increase in speed. In addition to these improvements, now that there has been significant success, the technology can be applied to real world situations.

Solovitz does not have any current need for research volunteers for the synthetic jet project, but he will in the future. He will have paid research opportunities available should funding for those positions be approved. Anyone interested in more information on research possibilities should contact Solovitz at stevesol@vancouver.wsu.edu. Anyone who would like additional information about this research is also encouraged to contact Solovitz or be on the lookout for his upcoming academic paper on the topic.

Photo features Stephen Solovitz by Zachary Kaufman

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