One common experimental technique for measuring velocity in a flow is particle image velocimetry (PIV), shown above. Special particles are introduced–seeded–into the flow. Typically, these particles are small, neutrally buoyant, and have a refractive index significantly different from the background flow. One or more lasers are used to illuminate a section of the flow–a plane for 2D measurements or a cube for 3D. Rather than operating continuously, the laser is pulsed, producing very short exposure times of the order of hundreds of nanoseconds. A camera (or more than one camera for 3D measurements) captures a pair of images separated by this short exposure. The time between frames is so small that the particles will not have moved much between frames. Researchers can then correlate the two frames and derive velocity data from the motion of the particles.
In this video, researcher Leif Ristroph and his colleagues have used a clever way to simulate flapping flight, not by actuating their fliers but by oscillating the flow. The flow is driven by a speaker, which causes the air above it to move up and down. Using straws to simulate the honeycomb flow conditioners often used in wind tunnels helps smooth flow. The end result is a great table-top set-up for testing and refining miniature flier designs. The best fliers stay aloft thanks to asymmetry in the streamwise direction; when the air moves upward, the flier catches the air, maximizing drag so that it is carried upward. When the flow reverses, however, the shape of the flier is more streamlined, so the drag is reduced, helping the flier stay aloft. (Video credit: Science Friday/Leif Ristroph et al.)