BYU, USU scientists say fluids study could aid traumatic brain injury research

Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

Researchers from BYU and Utah State say they have made findings about a phenomenon in fluids that could ultimately have implications in better understanding and diagnosing traumatic brain injuries.

PROVO — Researchers from BYU and Utah State say they have made findings about a phenomenon in fluids that could lead to better understanding and diagnosing traumatic brain injuries.

The research suggests a new way to calculate a process known as cavitation — “a process well-known to engineers for causing damage in pipes and marine propellers,” BYU spokesman Todd Hollingshead said.

An improved understanding of cavitation in an at-rest fluid may have an impact on research into the fluid surrounding the brain and to what extent the process factors into traumatic brain injuries, BYU mechanical engineering professor Scott Thomson, one of the study’s authors, said in an interview.

“Initially when we started doing this project, it wasn’t about brain injury … but as we looked into it, we realized there could be a connection between cavitation and brain injury,” he said. “You have bubbles that are being formed and collapse, which send out a shockwave, which in the case of the brain (would hypothetically) cause tissue damage.”

Depending on various circumstances in play in a given fluid, cavitation occurs “when the pressure drops to a low enough level, then you have these bubbles that expand, and then these bubbles all of the sudden collapse when the pressure rises again,” Thomson explained.

Researchers experimented through what Hollingshead described as an unusual anomaly that has been popularized as a party trick and can easily be found on YouTube: the breaking of glass bottles by striking the top of them.

The study, which was published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August, included high-speed photography to capture what happened just before the bottles broke.

Though the bottle breaks within less than a hundredth of a second upon impact, the cameras captured images showing the formation and subsequent collapse of bubbles…

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