The various tools for flow visualization have been significantly expanded over the past several years through the use of molecular scattering and molecular laser-induced fluorescence. These approaches have added the capability of sampling individual small volume elements within a flow, and by using cameras for detection, they are easily extended to sample lines and cross-sectional planes. This localized measurement capability means that these approaches can be made quantitative even in complex and/or unsteady flow fields. If the molecular species is naturally occurring, such as oxygen or nitrogen in air, then no seeding is required.

Furthermore, in these applications, images of the flow can be frozen in time by using a short pulse laser for illumination. The distribution of the molecules reflects the true physics of the flow, so even raw images taken in this manner give an immediate understanding of flow field properties. With proper calibration, the images can be further analyzed to yield quantitative information about the flow. In the case of flow tagging, the analysis gives velocity profiles when lines are written, and deformation, vorticity, and dilation with grid patterns. Molecular scattering can be used to give quantitative values of density, temperature, and two-dimensional velocity.

This paper presents three such molecular-based approaches: laser-induced fluorescence from oxygen, flow tagging by oxygen excitation, and Rayleigh scattering. These three approaches are chosen because all three can be used in naturally occurring air with no seeding. The raw data from each of these approaches gives an immediate appreciation of the flow structure and further analysis yields accurate values of velocity, temperature, and density. These approaches use readily available laser sources; however, they will be greatly enhanced with new source technologies that are currently under development.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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