Professors and researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have been collaborating in the field of fluid dynamics for over two decades on projects that have considerable mutual commercial and medical benefits.
Fluid dynamics, broadly speaking, is the area of scientific research concerned with the movement and behaviour of fluids. However, researchers in this field often work at a molecular level to interrogate and understand how certain liquids respond under particular conditions. This knowledge can affect our understanding of the world, help to make our lives safer or drive breakthroughs in medical science.
“Fluid dynamics is a discipline that sits between mathematics, physics and engineering,” says Roberto Verzicco, who is a Professor of Fluid Dynamics at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata” and has recently published a paper on the dynamics of the flow in the left heart ventricle. “It achieves several things, but important among them is the fluid mechanics of the heart. Cardiovascular diseases account for the majority of deaths worldwide and the projection for the next two decades is really worrisome because of the aging populations of western countries. If new procedures and treatments are not found, then the cost cannot be sustained.”
Much of the work involved in understanding the flow of blood inside the heart is based in ‘numerical’ or ‘computational’ fluid dynamics (CFD), which allows scientists to create digital simulations in order to predict fluid flows and their interactions with the surrounding structure. These ‘computational models’ of blood flow provide an opportunity to test new technological solutions (like artificial heart valves or new surgical techniques), without the need for expensive hardware or animal testing. It is in this simulation space that the unlikely overlap with inkjet takes place.
Océ’s long-standing relationship with the University of Twente was put in place to simply make better, more effective and efficient commercial inkjet printers. Herman Wijshoff, a researcher at Océ-Technologies B.V. and Professor of Fluid Dynamics of Inkjet Printing at Eindhoven University explains, “At first we started with the activation of the printer, generating pressure waves, disturbing mechanisms like air bubbles and dirt particles. Later we looked at the behaviour of drops when they are formed on the substrate and start to spread and merge. All these steps are now part of the fundamentals of the process and how we deal with more complicated liquids.”
Classic fluid dynamics concerns itself with the qualities and behaviour of water, but ink, like blood is a far more complex liquid. The parallels between the substances became apparent when the same analysis tools were deployed on both substances.
“From a fundamental point of view, we are using tools to simulate the flow of ink, which are also used to simulate the flow of blood,” explains Herman “Even when we look at the flow of ink on paper – paper is a complicated and porous material – we are using the same tooling used for human bones. Bones are also a complicated porous structure through which the blood flows and the interplay between bone structure and blood flow really determines bone strength. These are also the interactions between ink and paper with the focus now more on deformation of the paper. There are lots of similarities between inkjet research and research for medical applications.”
Bones are also a complicated porous structure through which the blood flows and the interplay between bone structure and blood flow really determines bone strength. These are also the interactions between ink and paper with the focus now more on deformation of the paper. There are lots of similarities between inkjet research and research for medical applications.
While these affinities are fascinating, the real benefit comes when in pursuit of research funding. Partnership working can reap excellent rewards when looking to fund a long-term project, but joining forces across unlikely industries, such as medical and chemical, can not only expand the scope of the project, but secure essential budget which increases the size of the research programme.
In practice, this means that Océ’s current ‘fundamentals of fluid dynamic challenges in inkjet printing’ programme that currently has 16 researchers, will dramatically increase in size as they become part of a Europe-wide consortia, alongside at least four other partners, all of whom have mutual involvement, and interests, in the outcomes.
“The university I work with is already split into traditional mechanical engineering and biomedical mechanical engineering and the two departments have a very close connection,” says Herman. “Our future research will look at the molecular aspects of materials and how molecules interact with other molecules. That is one of the big issues in the research programme for the next few years and where we expect to find the next breakthrough.”
Ultimately, by working in tandem with industry, medical research can reap the benefits of projects that appear, on the surface at least, to have more in common with complicated business charts than the complex workings of our four-chambered hearts.
Head to the Océ website to discover more about the science of fluid dynamics.