Hazel, A. L. & Heil, M. (2006) Finite-Reynolds-Number Effects in Steady, Three-Dimensional Airway Reopening. ASME Journal of Biomechanical Engineering (in print)

Motivated by the physiological problem of pulmonary airway reopening, we study the steady propagation of an air finger into a buckled elastic tube, initially filled with viscous fluid. The system is modelled using geometrically non-linear, Kirchhoff--Love shell theory, coupled to the free-surface Navier--Stokes equations. The resulting three-dimensional, fluid-structure-interaction problem is solved numerically by a fully-coupled finite element method. Our study focuses on the effects of fluid inertia, which has been neglected in most previous studies. The importance of inertial forces is characterised by the ratio of the Reynolds and capillary numbers, Re/Ca, a material parameter. Fluid inertia has a significant effect on the system's behaviour, even at relatively small values of Re/Ca. In particular, compared to the case of zero Reynolds number, fluid inertia causes a significant increase in the pressure required to drive the air finger at a given speed.

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