Two Delightful Books I Read Recently (about Fluid Mechanics!)

The best part about grad school is finally having enough time to “do all the nothing you want.” Which is why I was able to sit down recently and teach myself the basics of fluid mechanics.

I came across two surprisingly wonderful books I thought worth mentioning since it’s unlikely most people would ever see them.

The first is the dryly titled Fundamentals of Aerodynamics by (the also dryly titled) John Anderson. It’s an undergraduate textbook for engineers that opens with one of the most riveting passages I’ve ever read:

On August 8, 1588, the waters of the English Channel churned with the gyrations of hundreds of warships. The great Spanish Armada had arrived to carry out an invasion of Elizabethan England… On that crucial day in 1588, when the English floated six fire ships into the Spanish formation and then drove headlong into the ensuing confusion, the future history of Europe was in the balance. In the final outcome, the heavier, sluggish, Spanish ships were no match for the faster, more maneuverable, English craft, and by that evening the Spanish Armada lay in disarray, no longer a threat to England. [The battle] taught the world that political power was going to be synonymous with naval power. In turn, naval power was going to depend greatly on the speed and maneuverability of ships. To increase the speed of a ship, it is important to reduce the resistance created by the water flow around the ship’s hull. Suddenly, the drag on ship hulls became an engineering problem of great interest, thus giving impetus to the study of fluid mechanics.

It’s too bad the book is all downhill from there. But how could it not be? At some point you’ve got to stop talking about British naval victories and move on to the equations.

Album of Fluid Motion deftly sidesteps that problem by avoiding text entirely. It’s a book about fluid mechanics that’s ALL PICTURES (and captions).

This is surprisingly helpful since part of what makes fluids so hard to understand is the complex ways in which they interact with themselves. It’s also interesting to see the range of techniques used to visualize fluid flow including: air bubbles, smoke, aluminum dust, oscillating a cylinder with a loudspeaker in a mixture of water and glycerin, and coating a cylinder in condensed milk and pushing it through water.

Streamlines around a cylinder

Periodic waves from a supersonic jet

The photos are unfortunately a little blurry. There’s a similar, more modern book (which I haven’t read yet) that looks like it may have clearer pictures called A Gallery of Fluid Motion.

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