Innovative virtual reality software developed to enhance fluid dynamics lectures


A student demonstrates the virtual reality software

A team of researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering have utilised Virtual Reality (VR) technology for teaching fluid dynamics.

Matar Fluids Group (MFG) received funding from Imperial College London to develop the technology, with which they have created a VR programme that enables students to experience fluid dynamics from within a liquid flow with real-time feedback through touch and sound.

Bringing mathematical equations to life

Each student in the classroom is provided with a VR headset, headphones and two handheld controllers. As well as being able to view a liquid flow from 360 degrees on the outside, they are also able to dive in and see how the flow behaves from within. In addition, the programme enables them to manipulate particles and measure the impact of their movements, bringing to life the mathematical equations for these processes.

In one simulation, a flow of liquid is presented in a pipe. Users can shoot particles into the pipe and observe how they travel down it, seeing how they move faster at the centre of the pipe and slower near the edge.

In addition to visual cues, students are able to hear and feel the impact of pressure. When the pressure of the liquid flow is higher, a high-pitched sound can be heard and a vibration felt in the handheld controllers – much like the rumblepack on a games console.

Postdoctoral research Dr Lyes Kahouadji demonstrates the VR software.

Third year undergraduate Aniket Chitre said: “It’s quite cool how they’ve made it sound near the walls of the pipe. The stress is higher near the walls and quieter near the centre.

I think I’ll remember this better than a mathematical derivation – it solidifies learning in a more memorable way”.

Student partnership

The project has been developed in partnership with students from its inception, with undergraduates leading in the design of the interface as part of an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programme (UROP). By converting Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) files into VR design software, they created the visual element of the experience – in other words, the entire VR ‘world’. Undergraduate student reps also worked closely in partnership with the team to provide feedback and ensure its features meet learning needs.

MFG says that traditional lectures in fluid mechanics rely heavily on mathematics, with little opportunity for practical activities. Now they have a solution, which will provide a more interactive learning experience.

Professor Omar Matar, Head of MFG and Vice Dean (Education) said: “While the students will be exploring fluid flows in a 4-D environment, they will also hear the pressure and physically experience forces. It is believed that such a teaching approach will result in elevated levels of understanding”.

Next steps

While undergraduate students are learning the ropes on this new software, the team are exploring how it can be developed for other subjects within engineering and are actively working alongside researchers from the Dyson School of Design Engineering, and the Department of Earth Science & Engineering to facilitate this.

The funding was provided by Imperial College London as the result of a successful bid to a pedagogy transformation fund linked to Imperial’s learning and teaching strategy.

Find out more about the Matar Fluids Group on their website


Sara West

Sara West
Communications Division

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