I had the pleasure of going to Osaka University in Japan for my research opportunity this summer to work in a laboratory studying fluid mechanics. As a student who has just completed her third year in Aerospace Engineering, this laboratory appealed to me because fluid mechanics is a very relevant field in aircraft design. However, I was definitely surprised when I found out that there are a lot more aspects to fluid mechanics that are much less related to aerospace. Many people in this laboratory worked on projects regarding chemical engineering and transport phenomena (in particular, the Marangoni effect was a popular topic), which was an area that I had much less experience in. Nonetheless, I worked hard to make up for my shortcomings.
My project in particular is related to the field of computational fluid dynamics. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (“BP oil spill”) in 2010, the emphasis on oil and gas tracking has increased, leading to the induction of this program. The main objective of this entire project is to come up with new technology that can track and recover spilled oil in the sea. There are three parts to this project; the first two tasks are to create an underwater robot and a sea surface robot to monitor spilled plumes of oil. My work was in the third part of the project, which is a study to improve the accuracy of numerical methods used to predict the movement of spilled oil. We hope that these studies will eventually allow us to carry out appropriate measures and prevent disastrous environmental effects, as well as recollect some of the spilled oil. The hardest part of this project is integrating the formation of methane hydrate with the physical interaction of the liquid and gas. Simply modelling each phenomenon separately is not too difficult, but it would not accurately model the problem in real life.
During my short 3-month stay, I was tasked with modelling the flow of methane gas bubbles rising through moving water in the ocean. This simulation was to be done using OpenFOAM, which is the main program used in this laboratory. For me personally, this was also the hardest aspect of my project, because it took a lot of tutorials and trial and error to understand how the program works. OpenFOAM has a large array of built-in solvers, including the ‘bubbleFoam’ two-phase solver which I used for the entirety of my project. R is easy to understand the main structure of a project in OpenFOAM, but setting it up and debugging requires a lot of in-depth knowledge in both fluid mechanics and computational methods. Despite being a bit discouraged at first, I found myself being able to learn many new things under these circumstances. My project required only the use of a computer, but I have also had the chance to see some demonstrations of the equipment used in the experimental laboratory. The past few months have given me a lot of insight about life as a research student, and it will help me make an educated decision about graduate school in the future.
My overall experience of Japan has been amazing. Ihave been very blessed to work in a modern environment while being in a country of a long history and traditional culture, and it is interesting to see these values integrated with the way of thinking and work habits at the lab. In addition to my work, I also had the pleasure of visiting many Japanese cities, each with their own atmosphere and lifestyles. R is exciting to see how one single country can have so many different faces to it. This placement in a foreign environment has also allowed me to develop life skills, such as adaptability and open-mindedness, that may not be directly related to academia, but they will definitely give me an advantage in any situation. R is quite a different experience to live here for 3 months as opposed to simply visiting the country as a tourist, and I really appreciate Engineering Science for providing me with this great exposure of growth and development.