Simulating the dynamics and interactions of flexible fibers in Stokes flows

Anna Karin Tornberg, Michael J. Shelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The dynamics of slender filaments or fibers suspended in Stokesian fluids are fundamental to understanding many flows arising in physics, biology and engineering. Such filaments can have aspect ratios of length to radius ranging from a few tens to several thousands. Full discretizations of such 3D flows are very costly. Instead, we employ a non-local slender body theory that yields an integral equation, along the filament centerline, relating the force exerted on the body to the filament velocity. This hydrodynamical description takes into account the effect of the filament on the fluid, and is extended to capture the interaction of multiple filaments as mediated by the intervening fluid. We consider filaments that are inextensible and elastic. Replacing the force in the slender body integral equation by an explicit expression that uses Euler-Bernoulli theory to model bending and tensile forces yields an integral expression for the velocity of the filament centerlines, coupled to auxiliary integro-differential equations for the filament tensions. Based on a regularized version of these slender body equations that is asymptotically equivalent to the original formulation, we construct a numerical method which uses a combination of finite differences, implicit time-stepping to avoid severe stability constraints, and special quadrature methods for nearly singular integrals. We present simulations of single flexible filaments, as well as multiple interacting filaments, evolving in a background shear flow. These simulations show shear induced buckling and relaxation of the filaments, leading to the storage and release of elastic energy. These dynamics are responsible for the development of positive first normal stress differences, commonly associated with visco-elastic fluids that are suspensions of microscopic elastic fibers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-40
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Computational Physics
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Numerical Analysis
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Mathematics
  • Applied Mathematics


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