Flow measurement and thrust estimation of a vibrating ionic polymer metal composite

Woojin Chae, Youngsu Cha, Sean D. Peterson, Maurizio Porfiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ionic polymer metal composites (IPMCs) are an emerging class of soft active materials that are finding growing application as underwater propulsors for miniature biomimetic swimmers. Understanding the hydrodynamics generated by an IPMC vibrating under water is central to the design of such biomimetic swimmers. In this paper, we propose the use of time-resolved particle image velocimetry to detail the fluid kinematics and kinetics in the vicinity of an IPMC vibrating along its fundamental structural mode. The reconstructed pressure field is ultimately used to estimate the thrust produced by the IPMC. The vibration frequency is systematically varied to elucidate the role of the Reynolds number on the flow physics and the thrust production. Experimental results indicate the formation and shedding of vortical structures from the IPMC tip during its vibration. Vorticity shedding is sustained by the pressure gradients along each side of the IPMC, which are most severe in the vicinity of the tip. The mean thrust is found to robustly increase with the Reynolds number, closely following a power law that has been derived from direct three-dimensional numerical simulations. A reduced order distributed model is proposed to describe IPMC underwater vibration and estimate thrust production, offering insight into the physics of underwater propulsion and aiding in the design of IPMC-based propulsors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number095018
JournalSmart Materials and Structures
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • actuators
  • hydrodynamics
  • ionic polymer metal composites
  • particle image velocimetry
  • thrust
  • underwater robotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Signal Processing
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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