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James Coder

Fluid Simulations May Help Detect Underwater Threats

In an increasingly global economy, maritime transport plays a crucial role in international trade as the most cost-effective mode of transport for goods. It is estimated that approximately 95 percent of US foreign trade occurs via the water. As a result, underwater threat detection continues to be an important area of study for both military and commercial applications.

Monitoring for underwater threats, however, is a complex problem with a large number of variables. Even the noise generated by devices used to perform the monitoring has to be accounted for. Current methods for filtering out these variables often involve making approximations and may not give the most accurate representation of what’s really going on. James Coder, assistant professor of mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering, wants to find a better way.

“Basically, we want to do better simulations of how fluids like water flow,” he said. “Right now we have equations that describe and define how it happens, but they’re very general because they apply to air the same as water.”

According to Coder, to be applied to water these equations often have to be approximated. The result is often missing information, usually in acoustics or thermodynamics—properties inherently important to the understanding of how water flows. 

Coder’s JDRD team is working to create better simulations of these flows by developing a new way to address the equations, approximations, and missing information.

“This project is trying to approach the physics of the problem in a way that allows for some modern numerical analysis,” he said. “We’re also looking at some different ways of expressing the equations that may be effective at capturing thermodynamics.”

Coder’s work has possible applications in a variety of fields beyond threat detection, including energy and even biomedical opportunities.

“Water is so prevalent in our lives. If we could simulate that better, we could get a better grasp of the physics with fewer approximations,” he said.

Robert Wilson, senior research and development staff member at ORNL, is serving as Coder’s collaborator. Wilson is currently working on developing next-generation underwater threat detection devices with support from the US Office of Naval Research.