Banner Staff Writer
How does making a tractor-trailer more aerodynamic increase fuel efficiency? How do contaminants travel in the air? What is the best way to design a golf driver to reduce drag?
These and other practical problems of science are the research focus of the SimCenter National Center for Computational Engineering at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Dr. David Whitfield, director of the SimCenter, explained some of simulations the center has conducted to a gathering of the Rotary Club of Cleveland.
“Sometimes people ask what computational engineering is. And it’s really rather simple,” Whitfield said.
Computational engineering combines applied mathematics, advanced scientific computing and engineering to “solve complex, practical, real-world engineering analysis and design problems using advanced computer simulations based on physical and mathematical models,” according to Whitfield.
The SimCenter works with the military and NASA, and has done work on more local issues.
“Some of you remember when John Glenn went up and had a problem with a parachute door in the shuttle,” Whitfield said. “We got a call when they were in orbit. The question was is that going to bother the re-entry problem. So, we simulated it while they were [in orbit around] the Earth. And it didn’t look to us like it was going to cause a problem.”
Whitfield said the center has a variety of research topics that faculty and students are working on at any given time.
“It’s land, sea, air and space. It’s all the way across the gamut,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield said they work on “anything that has conservation laws that describe a physical phenomenon to solve those equations.”
One project dealing with hazardous releases tracked where a substance would be blown if dropped from a given point on Lookout Mountain.
“What we do is application research,” Whitfield said.
This application can lead to more efficient practices. The SimCenter developed a simulation to show how wind travels over and around an 18-wheel tractor-trailer on a highway. Whitfield said the vehicle is not aerodynamic and has a lot of drag, affecting fuel efficiency. With modifications to drag-reducing parts already available, the SimCenter saw a 10 percent increase in fuel efficiency in a real-life test.
The center has received grants to continue work throughout the state.
Another project was for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce.
The simulation projected if dust from the quarry could affect Enterprise South. The SimCenter’s simulation showed that dust from the quarry should not be a problem.
“Seven days later Volkswagen announced they were moving to town,” Whitfield said.
He said they had not known why the Chamber wanted the study done.
Some projects start from student research.
A student began studying the aerodynamics of a golf ball during summer studies at the center.
“We don’t have any sponsorships for this, but we would like to design a driver (that reduces drag and increases power),” Whitfield said.