In Fluid Mechanics Research, CEAFM Continues the Legend

Fall 2002

Although it may not be obvious to the casual observer, some of the most profound and intractable problems facing humankind today are rooted in fluid mechanics. Global climate change, ozone depletion, pollen transport, and asthma all involve the fluid commonly recognized as air. Without water, ours would be a lifeless planet, and in fact the mysteries of water movement, from the deep ocean circulation to the annoying drip of a faucet, have long challenged scientists. Anything that moves through air, water, or any other liquid is fundamentally a fluid mechanics problem.

Johns Hopkins University has a legendary reputation in fluid mechanics. In the golden years of fluid mechanics research in the 1960s and 1970s, the faculty luminaries in the Department of Mechanics at the Homewood campus were Stanley Corrsin, Leslie Kovaznay, and Clifford Truesdell. All three are deceased; the Corrsin Wind Tunnel memorializes the professor who designed and built it. As the University grew, departments branched off and the study of traditional fluid mechanics problems flowed with them.

Researchers in this field continued to collaborate interdepartmentally at Hopkins, and eventually fluids researchers from both the Whiting School of Engineering and Krieger School of Arts and Sciences formally recognized their common interests in the late 1990s by establishing the Center for Environmental and Applied Fluid Mechanics (CEAFM). The center provides a formal means for collaboration and academic discussion.

A 1998 conference honoring Owen M. Phillips, Decker Professor of Science and Engineering (now emeritus), inaugurated CEAFM. Phillips, who taught at Hopkins for some 40 years, is renowned for his system of predicting and describing the shapes of giant ocean waves—invaluable information for building ships and oil rigs. He played an important role in creating the center, just as he had in forming the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in 1967.

CEAFM brings together faculty from Mechanical Engineering, Geography and Environmental Engineering, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Civil Engineering, Mathematical Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Physics and Astronomy, as well as from the Applied Physics Laboratory. In a weekly seminar series, faculty discuss common interests and fluids problems. They also collaborate on research projects funded by outside agencies.

The most recent award is a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study biocomplexity, specifically pollen transport (biological aerosol particles) in the turbulent atmosphere. The project is part of an NSF multidisciplinary initiative exploring the connections in Earth’s living and nonliving components—from deep sea thermal vents to the atmosphere, from the submolecular level to ecosystems.

Last spring marked the center’s inaugural research symposium, which each year will give CEAFM graduate students and postdocs a chance to showcase their work. The May 17 symposium featured projects related to the oceans, turbulence, complex media, and the atmosphere. Among the guests were colleagues and researchers from national laboratories, regional companies, and alumni.

For more information visit CEAFM’s web site at