APS News

October 2023 (Volume 32, Number 10)

The 40-Year-Old Gallery of Fluid Motion Goes Traveling

The famous gallery, showcasing the dazzling flows of gases and liquids, will appear in a National Academy of Sciences exhibit in DC this winter. Next year, it heads to Salt Lake City.

By Liz Boatman | September 14, 2023

Airfoil particles
Credit: Azar Panah’s PHOTO 321N course, Penn State Berks

Particles around an airfoil.

A ripple in a pond, a burst of flame, a shapeshifting cloud: All abide by fluid dynamics, which describe the ways that liquids or gases flow. For Azar Panah, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State Berks, fluid dynamics is as much an art as a science.

“Whenever I show pictures of fluid visualizations to my family or friends, they’re always so interested,” she says.

Since 2021, Panah has coordinated the APS Division of Fluid Dynamic (DFD)’s Gallery of Fluid Motion contest. Scientists and students submit vibrant videos and posters, which are judged for their artistic and scientific value and originality. Winning entries are displayed at DFD’s annual conference and online.

The gallery, launched in 1983, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and Panah — keen to expand its impact — is taking the gallery outside the conference. Starting this October, the works will appear as an exhibit in the National Academy of Sciences’ cultural programs gallery in Washington, DC. (DFD’s meeting is in DC in November.)

To design the exhibit, Panah turned to APS’s Joint Network for Informal Physics Education and Research (JNIPER), a community for people designing, facilitating, or studying informal physics learning activities. Registration is free, and APS membership is not required to join.

The network just wrapped up a four-part workshop series aimed at helping people like Panah design engagement activities.

“The workshop has been eye-opening for me,” says Panah. “I do some sort of evaluation in my courses in traditional classrooms, but I’ve never done in-depth assessment and evaluation for outreach activities in museums before.”

The workshop offered a helpful structure “to first figure out who your audience is, what your main goals are, what kind of activities you would like to design for them, how you are going to assess those activities, and how you can improve your efforts,” she says.

Through the JNIPER workshop, Panah saw an opportunity to engage undergraduates from Penn State Berks who will be volunteering in the gallery’s exhibit during the DFD meeting, by crafting their experience as volunteers to help build their identities as scientists.

The exhibit, which will be open to the public from Oct. 2, 2023, through Feb. 23, 2024, will feature still images, sculptures, and a wrap-around projection installation with videography.

Incense smoke
Credit: Azar Panah’s PHOTO 321N course, Penn State Berks

Incense smoke rising into the air.

“I’m working with two professional curators, Natalia Almonte and Nicole Economides, who have designed this beautiful space for us,” she says.

Next year, when the DFD meeting is held in Salt Lake City, the gallery will travel there. A new installation will be developed to connect with the public in Utah.

Panah’s interest in fluid dynamics started when she was young. She studied aerospace engineering as an undergrad, and her doctoral research focused on the aerodynamics of flapping wings in nature. “It was mesmerizing, but I wanted to understand the physics as well,” she says.

She thinks the Gallery of Fluid Motion can inspire in others what her education inspired in her — an interest in fluid dynamics. “You may not know the science behind the patterns while stirring milk into coffee,” but observing them “raises the question in your head,” she says. That curiosity can inspire passion, possibly — hopefully — in fluid dynamics.

The Gallery is one of several creative approaches that DFD members are taking to share fluid dynamics with the public. This winter, another DFD group is planning to publish two anthologies of creative nonfiction aimed at inspiring girls and women to pursue careers in the field.

Both efforts act as invitations. “The more people you have in the field, the more perspectives you get,” says Panah.

Even if gallery visitors aren’t inspired to become physicists, Panah feels optimistic. The gallery could, after all, “change someone’s opinion about science or art.”

Visit the Gallery of Fluid Motion from Oct. 2, 2023, to Feb. 23, 2024, in the Upstairs Gallery of the National Academies building at 2101 Constitution Avenue NW in Washington, DC. Anyone with a government-issued photo ID can visit weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Liz Boatman is a staff writer for APS News.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Taryn MacKinney

October 2023 (Volume 32, Number 10)

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The Surprising Physics of How Dogs and Cats Drink Water
This Month in Physics History
How Searching for the Higgs Prepared this Physicist to be an AI Leader in the Corporate World
The 40-Year-Old Gallery of Fluid Motion Goes Traveling
Physicists Fill in Wikipedia’s Gaps on Climate Science
It’s Tough to Teach Computation in Advanced Physics Labs — So Physicists Workshopped It
APS Announces Recipients of the Fall 2023 Prizes and Awards
Opinion: Climate Doomism Disregards the Science
As the Congressional Science Fellowship Turns 50, Former Fellows Reflect on Their Experience — and Where They Are Now
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