The flow in an idealized airway model is investigated for the steady inhalation case. The geometry consists of a symmetric planar double bifurcation that reflects the anatomical proportions of the human bronchial tree, and a wide range of physiologically relevant Reynolds numbers (Re = 100–5000) is considered. Using magnetic resonance velocimetry, we analyze the three-dimensional fields of velocity and vorticity, along with flow descriptors that characterize the longitudinal and lateral dispersion. In agreement with previous studies, the symmetry of the flow partitioning is broken even at the lower Reynolds numbers, and at the second bifurcation, the fluid favors the medial branches over the lateral ones. This trend reaches a plateau around Re = 2000, above which the turbulent inflow results in smoothed mean velocity gradients. This also reduces the streamwise momentum flux, which is a measure of the longitudinal dispersion by the mean flow. The classic Dean-type counter-rotating vortices are observed in the first-generation daughter branches as a result of the local curvature. In the granddaughter branches, however, the secondary flows are determined by the local curvature only for the lower flow regimes (Re ≤ 250), in which case the classic Dean mechanism prevails. At higher flow regimes, the field is instead dominated by streamwise vortices extending from the daughter into the medial granddaughter branches, where they rotate in the opposite direction with respect to Dean vortices. Circulation and secondary flow intensity show a similar trend as the momentum flux, increasing with Reynolds number up to Re = 2000 and then dropping due to turbulent dissipation of vorticity. The streamwise vortices interact both with each other and with the airway walls, and for Re > 500 they can become stronger in the medial granddaughter than in the upstream daughter branches. With respect to realistic airway models, the idealized geometry produces weaker secondary flows, suggesting that realistic anatomical features may generate more lateral dispersion than canonical symmetric models.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding for this work was provided by the National Science Foundation (Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems, Grant #1453538). We wish to thank Ute Goerke (Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, University of Minnesota) for continuous support in operating the MRI scanner, Clement Kleinstreuer (North Carolina State University) for kindly providing the bifurcation geometry, and Azar Eslam-Panah (Pennsylvania State University) for many helpful discussions on vortex identification and tracking.
© 2016, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.