One of the great challenges in visualizing fluid flows is the freedom of movement. A fluid particle – meaning some tiny little bit of fluid we want to follow – is generally free to move in any direction and even change its shape (but not mass). This makes tracking all of those changes difficult, and it’s part of why there are so many different techniques for flow visualization. The technique an experimenter uses depends on the information they hope to get.
Often a researcher may want to know about fluid velocity in two or more directions, which can require multiple camera angles and more than one laser sheet illuminating the flow. An alternative to such a set-up is shown above. The injected fluid – known as a rheoscopic fluid – contains microscopic reflective particles, in this case mica, that are asymmetric in shape. Imagine a tiny rod, for example. By illuminating the rod from different directions with different colors of light, you can determine the particle’s orientation based on the color it reflects. Since the orientation of the particle depends on the surrounding flow, you can infer how the flow moves. (Image credit and submission: J. C. Straccia; research link: V. Bezuglyy et al.)