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First-of-its-kind Wavemaker to be Built at UNC


Leandra Vicci, lecturer and director of the UNC computer science Applied Engineering Lab, is co-PI on an NSF Major Research Instrumentation grant to build a wavemaker for the 13,500-gallon-capacity wave tank located in the UNC Joint Fluids Lab in Chapman Hall. The PI for the grant is Roberto Camassa of the department of mathematics, and other co-PIs are Richard McLaughlin, also of the department of mathematics, and Brian White of the department of marine sciences.

The wave tank is being used to study fluid dynamics, and once constructed, the wavemaker will allow for the study of such phenomena as rogue waves, formation and development of Tsunamis, and the effects of internal waves on mixing stratified salt and fresh water layers, which affects the ecological health of estuaries.


Currently, the state-of-the-art among wavemakers has a number of different ways of generating precisely tailored waves, but each can only generate one kind of wave. A wavemaker designed at ENS-Lyon is currently the most flexible wavemaker in existence and uses stacked plates that slide in different ways relative to each other to create waves. However, the way the plates slide is controlled by camshafts with cams that have to be changed out in order to change the waves significantly.

The wavemaker conceived of by Vicci, on the other hand, uses no mechanical moving parts. Instead, a multiplicity of programmable pneumatic pressure sources are used to force water flow through apertures tiling one end of the wave tank. This generates waves controllable in both time and space over this end boundary of the wave tank, enabling a high degree of flexibility in generating a broad family of surface and internal waves.

The grant was funded in the amount of $655,401 over three years.