Research | Queen’s University Canada

Ugo Piomelli

Ugo Piomelli

Developing new models that explain and predict turbulence: this research will lead to dramatic improvements in applications from the design of vehicles and cardiac devices to weather and air-quality forecasting.

[Dr. Ugo Piomelli]
Former Canada Research Chair in Turbulence Simulations and Modelling
Tier 1

Attention All Passengers: This is Your Physicist Speaking

Most of us have had it happen: You are sitting on an airplane, picking through your reheated dinner, when all of a sudden the plane drops a few feet, the fasten-seatbelts sign lights up, and your drink ends up in your lap. Turbulence is a common part of air travel. It can sometimes be a little scary—and on the rare occasion, even deadly.

So why can’t pilots just avoid it? In good part, that’s because nobody really understands it. Turbulence is one of the greatest unsolved problems in classical physics—and cracking the enigma would do a lot more than give travelers a smoother trip. Turbulence also influences aircraft drag (and thus fuel consumption), blood flow in humans, the flow of fuel in cars and planes, and the dispersion of pollution in the air. Yet no theory has been developed to fully account for its effects.

As Canada Research Chair in Turbulence Simulations and Modelling, Dr. Ugo Piomelli is hoping to explain and predict this phenomenon using computers to model complex turbulent flows. This work requires heavyweight computing power—clusters of thousands of interconnected computers that solve complex equations using advanced numerical techniques.

Piomelli and his research team are working to refine these techniques, building new models to save time and resources, and predict turbulent flows more accurately. This could lead to better vehicle design and efficiency, more effective artificial heart valves, and more accurate weather forecasts, among a range of other potentially significant improvements. It might also lead to less "exciting" plane trips. The reheated dinner will not change, unfortunately.