Life is Multiphysics

Fanny Littmarck | August 14, 2012
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As an engineer researching and designing new products you really need to consider all aspects of the environment it is going to work within. Most of the time it won’t be enough to examine a single situation the product may encounter, because in nature there is always a combination of physical effects taking place — multiphysics.

Some Multiphysics Examples

If you think about it, everything in our daily life is coupled, few things act alone. Take lava lamps, for example. They’re more than just glass vessels filled with colorful wax; when viewing lava lamps through a physics lens what you see is a coupling of fluid dynamics and heat transfer. Both are dependent on each other.

Look at a common household item, such as a microwave oven for instance. You just pop in a frozen dinner and wait for the signal that the food is ready. Easy as pie. Have you considered what is happening inside that microwave oven while you’re impatiently waiting on the other side? Why, heat transfer and electromagnetics of course. Or in simple terms, what is happening inside the microwave is multiphysics.

And what do beepers, inkjet printers, and ultrasound imaging systems have in common? They all rely on piezoelectricity, which again is a multiphysics problem. The electric fields cause a structural deformation which in turn affects the fields. I could go on, because the world is full of multiphysics, but by now you get the point.

Contrary to how high school physics may have made it seem, we do not live in a vacuum where engineers can rely on simple physics to get the job done. In order to create accurate models to represent real-life situations how they actually occur, researchers and designers need to be able to couple many different physics phenomena into what we call multiphysics. Understanding this can drastically change the outcome of a new design; it can be the difference between success and failure. With COMSOL Multiphysics engineers can optimize their design to endure environments that involve different physical processes that occur simultaneously.

Continue to follow (and add to!) the multiphysics conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #lifeismultiphysics

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  1. NN Misra August 15, 2012   3:54 am

    To add another dimension to this, “Life could be partially understood and analysed on the basis of multiphysics phenomena”

    When we breathe it involves mass diffusion (gas exchange), heat transfer, fluid dynamics- simultaneous transport phenomena. We attempt to control this transport phenomena with Yoga.
    When we digest food , it involves transport phenomena (active and passive diffusion), structural mechanics (gut movement) within the digestive tract, within stomach.
    Functioning of our heart can be described based on current flow, structural mechanics etc.; so is the nerve conduction involving charge transport; blood circulation involving complex fluid flow (structural changes in RBCs and change in fluid properties and so on). Indeed this list could be extended forever.

    We live because of multiphysics phenomena.

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