Aline Cotel

Fluid Dynamics

Associate Professor Aline Cotel researches fluid dynamics, studying everything from the impact of biofuel spills on aquatic environments to the impact of turbulence on fish swimming and aquaculture systems.

To study biofuel spills, Cotel and Associate Professor Avery Demond are looking at how ethanol-based fuels would spread in the event of a large aquatic spill. They fill a tank with water, cover the water with a plate and pour ethanol mixtures on top. The plate is then pulled away and Cotel and Demond record videos of the fluids mixing. They have found that ethanol-based liquids mix actively with water, in highly non linear fashion, very different from how pure gasoline interacts with water and potentially more dangerous to aquatic life.

In another study related to aquatic life, she looked at the role of fish stability in turbulent flows. Along with Professor Paul Webb of the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), she took a look at how turbulence can have both positive and negative impacts on fish swimming, feeding and energetics. They found that negative loco motor impacts of turbulence are associated with eddies challenging stability, while positive effects promote drafting and station holding with reduced loco motor motions.

Outside of her research, Cotel is developing higher education opportunities in Liberia. She's part of EHELD (Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development). This organization composes new engineering and agricultural curricula and increases access to higher education for girls, war veterans and other underserved students. Part of Cotel’s task is to help redesign the curriculum and rebuild the laboratory facilities in the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Liberia. 

"The way you really learn engineering is hands-on. It's important for students to have that kind of experience when they're learning fluid mechanics or hydraulics," said Cotel. 

Cotel first traveled to Liberia in April 2011, where she and other members of the group met with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, visited two universities and saw the situation at hand: outdated curricula, buildings in need of rehabilitation and few functioning laboratories.

In the summer of 2012, EHELD organized math and science camp-style sessions for high-school students with the help of Peace Corps Volunteers already in Liberia.

"The idea is to help them feel like they can do this, to give them the tools they need to apply to and succeed at the university level," said Cotel.

Faculty and graduate students from U-M have traveled to Liberia for the past two summers to teach the camp programs.

To learn more about Cotel’s research on biofuel, please watch this video.


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