# Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Search our Site:

## Phase change in fluids finally simulated after decades of effort

19.01.2006

Everyone knows what happens to water when it boils—everyone, that is, except computers. Modeling the transformation process of matter moving from one phase to another, such as from liquid to gas, has been all but impossible near the critical point. This is due to the increasingly complex way molecules behave as they approach the change from one phase to another. Researchers at the University of Rochester, however, have now created a mathematical model that will allow scientists to simulate and understand phase changes, which could have an impact on everything from decaffeinating coffee to improving fuel cell efficiency in automobiles of the future. The findings have been published in Physical Review Letters.

"This problem has baffled scientists for decades," says Yonathan Shapir, professor of physics and chemical engineering at the University of Rochester, and co-author of the paper. "This is the first time a computer program could simulate a phase transition because the computers would always bog down at what’s known as the ’critical slowdown.’ We figured out a way to perform a kind of end-run around that critical point slowdown and the results allow us to calculate certain critical point properties for the first time."

"Critical slowdown" is a phenomenon that happens as matter moves from one phase to another near the critical point. As molecules in a gas, for instance, are cooled, they lose some of their motion, but are still moving around and bumping into each other. As the temperature drops to where the gas will change into a liquid, the molecules’ motion becomes correlated, or connected, across larger and larger distances. That correlation is a bit like deciding where to go to dinner—quick and easy with two people, but takes forever for a group of 20 to take action. The broadening correlation dramatically increases the time it takes for the gas to reach an overall equilibrium, and that directly leads to an increase in computing time required, approaching infinity and bogging down as the gas crosses the point of phase change.

To illustrate the effect, imagine a perfectly pure and still lake. If you drop a pebble into this lake, its ripples would spread outward, dissipating until the lake had returned to a calm equilibrium again. But, if you were to take this impossibly perfect lake just barely above the critical point and drop your pebble, the ripples would remain as ripples much longer—likely bouncing off the distant shores. This imaginary lake would take seemingly forever to return to its calm equilibrium again.

The research team of Shapir, Eldred Chimowitz, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and physics graduate student Subhranil De created a novel approach to tackle the phase-change process. They devised a computational model consisting of two separate reservoirs of fluid at equilibrium and near the critical point threshold. One reservoir was slightly more pressurized than its neighbor. The reservoirs were opened to each other and the pressure difference caused the fluids to mix. The team let the simulation run until the entire system reached thermodynamic equilibrium. By watching the rate that equilibrium returned, the team was able to calculate the behavior at the critical point. Their simulation findings match predictions and experimental results, including very precise measurements performed in microgravity on the Space Shuttle.

"In principle, it’s a difficult calculation," says Chimowitz. "Fluid systems require a different class of models than the common lattice models used by researchers who have studied dynamic critical behavior. These different classes give rise to different dynamic critical exponents and we found them, for the first time, in real fluid systems."

The best known examples of phase changes are perhaps water to ice and water to steam. Phase changes of many different physical types occur, however, such as the separation of a liquid mixture to its components, which should also abide by the Rochester team’s results.

The team’s simulation approach will likely be used by industry in a variety of ways, not the least of which will be to derive more power from a fuel cell. Since fuel cells rely on the transportation of protons through a membrane separating two electrodes, Shapir and Chimowitz believe it should be possible to use their work to find the most efficient configurations for a fuel cell. Other applications, such as removing the caffeine from coffee, work in a similar way and will likely also benefit.

Chimowitz also has just published a much-praised book about the subject, called Introduction to Critical Phenomena in Fluids from Oxford University Press. The book has been nominated for the Association of American Publishers’ Award for Excellence in Professional and Scholarly Publishing.

This research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The University of Rochester is one of the nation’s leading private universities. Located in Rochester, N.Y., the University’s environment gives students exceptional opportunities for interdisciplinary study and close collaboration with faculty. Its College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering is complemented by the Eastman School of Music, Simon School of Business, Warner School of Education, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and Schools of Medicine and Nursing.

Further information:
http://www.rochester.edu

### More articles from Health and Medicine:

Collagen nanofibrils in mammalian tissues get stronger with exercise
14.12.2018 | University of Illinois College of Engineering

New discoveries predict ability to forecast dementia from single molecule
12.12.2018 | UT Southwestern Medical Center

### Im Focus: Data storage using individual molecules

Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.

Around the world, researchers are attempting to shrink data storage devices to achieve as large a storage capacity in as small a space as possible. In almost...

### Im Focus: Data use draining your battery? Tiny device to speed up memory while also saving power

The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.

Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...

### Im Focus: An energy-efficient way to stay warm: Sew high-tech heating patches to your clothes

Personal patches could reduce energy waste in buildings, Rutgers-led study says

What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...

### Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

### Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige