Measuring flow: Renowned researcher leads WMU’s aerodynamics lab

Contact: Cindy Wagner

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—With nearly $2 million in funding, 117 journal papers, 48 conference papers, 3 books and 3 patents, Dr. Tianshu Liu, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is not only popular among students and an active researcher, but he is also Western Michigan University’s first John O. Hallquist Endowed Professor. The professorship enhances Liu’s extensive research accomplishments in aerodynamics, fluid mechanics and aerospace sciences and comes on the heels of another recognition—WMU’s Presidential Innovation Professor.

“Both professorships provide additional funding to support technical developments,” says Liu, whose current research focuses on global flow diagnostics in aerodynamics and fluid mechanics and fundamental aspects of complex near-wall flows. This research has also been supported by the grants from NASA, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force. 

“The specific topic is global measurements of skin friction from surface temperature measurements in wind tunnels from low-speed to hypersonic tunnels. The research goal is to further develop these methods,” explains Liu. 

Liu pursues this research as director of WMU’s Applied Aerodynamics Laboratory, which houses one of the largest low-speed wind tunnels in an academic setting in the U.S. The Advanced Design Wind Tunnel is a closed loop research grade tunnel that has a 3-foot by 4-foot test section capable of producing air speeds up to 250 feet per second. It has two 6-axis force balances, a 3-axis balance, hotwire, pressure instrumentation and stereo particle image velocimetry. This wind tunnel is used regularly for industry and government projects. 

A second, small wind tunnel is an open loop tunnel that has a 16-inch by 16-inch test section capable of producing airspeeds up to 100 feet per second. Primarily used for instructional and research purposes, it has a 3-axis force balance, Hotwire pressure instrumentation and stereo particle image velocimetry capabilities.

About Dr. Tianshu Liu

Liu earned his Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics from Purdue University. He earned an M.S. and a B.S. in aerodynamics from Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, China. Before joining WMU, Liu was a research scientist at NASA Langley Research Center.

Liu is developing unified image-based measurement methods to determine the important physical quantities of complex flows in engineering and natural systems, including pressure, temperature, heat transfer, skin friction and velocity. These quantities are important in various topics ranging from aerodynamics to planetary sciences. From a technical standpoint, this research explores an uncharted domain interfacing between fluid mechanics, image processing, measurement science, optical physics, computer vision and applied mathematics.

His research areas are experimental and applied aerodynamics and fluid mechanics. He contributed to image-based measurement techniques for various physical quantities such as surface pressure, temperature, heat-transfer, skin friction, velocity fields, aeroelastic deformation, and distributed and integrated forces. He also studies videogrammetry and vision for aerospace applications, flow control, flapping flight, flight vehicle design, turbulence and transition, and flight tests.