Most flows vary in three spatial dimensions and time. In experimental fluid dynamics, the challenge is measuring as much of this information as possible. For those who use computational fluid dynamics to study flows, their simulations provide massive amounts of data and the challenge comes in visualizing and processing that data in a useful way. Unless you can find and analyze the important aspects of the simulation results, they’re just a bunch of numbers. As computers have advanced, the size and complexity of simulation results has increased, too, making the task even more difficult. Using technologies like virtual reality projections (above) or 3D printing (below) allow researchers to interact with flow information in completely new but intuitive ways, hopefully leading to new insights into the data.
** The 3D-printed vortices are an image I took of a poster at the APS DFD Gallery of Fluid Motion in 2013, but I’m missing the researchers’ names. If you know whose poster these were from, please let me know (fyfluids [at] gmail [dot] com) so that I can update the credits accordingly. Thanks to Shervin for helping me find the right lab to credit!