The mathematical theory of capillary surfaces has developed steadily over the centuries, but it was not until the last few decades that new technologies have put a more urgent demand on a substantially more qualitative and quantitative understanding of phenomena relating to capillarity in general. So far, the new theory development successfully predicts the behavior of capillary surfaces for special cases. However, an efficient quantitative mathematical prediction of capillary phenomena related to the shape and stability of geometrically complex equilibrium capillary surfaces remains a significant challenge. As one of many numerical tools, the opensource Surface Evolver (SE) algorithm has played an important role over the last two decades. The current effort was undertaken to provide a front-end to enhance the accessibility of SE for the purposes of design and analysis. Like SE, the new code is open-source and will remain under development for the foreseeable future.

The ultimate goal of the current Surface Evolver – Fluid Interface Tool (SE-FIT) development is to build a fully integrated front-end with a set of graphical user interface (GUI) elements. Such a front-end enables the access to functionalities that are developed along with the GUIs to deal with pre-processing, convergence computation operation, and post-processing. In other words, SEFIT is not just a GUI front-end, but an integrated environment that can perform sophisticated computational tasks, e.g. importing industry standard file formats and employing parameter sweep functions, which are both lacking in SE, and require minimal interaction by the user. These functions are created using a mixture of Visual Basic and the SE script language. These form the foundation for a high-performance front-end that substantially simplifies use without sacrificing the proven capabilities of SE. The real power of SE-FIT lies in its automated pre-processing, pre-defined geometries, convergence computation operation, computational diagnostic tools, and crash-handling capabilities to sustain extensive computations.

SE-FIT performance is enabled by its socalled file-layer mechanism. During the early stages of SE-FIT development, it became necessary to modify the original SE code to enable capabilities required for an enhanced and synchronized communication. To this end, a file-layer was created that serves as a command buffer to ensure a continuous and sequential execution of commands sent from the front-end to SE. It also establishes a proper means for handling crashes. The file layer logs input commands and SE output; it also supports user interruption requests, back and forward operation (i.e. ‘undo’ and ‘redo’), and others. It especially enables the batch mode computation of a series of equilibrium surfaces and the searching of critical parameter values in studying the stability of capillary surfaces. In this way, the modified SE significantly extends the capabilities of the original SE.

There is a growing need for SE in subjects such as flows related to microgravity tankage, inkjet printing, nanotechnologies, transport in porous media, capillary self-assembly and self-alignment, microscale wicking structures, foams, and more. It is hoped that SE-FIT will prove to be an essential tool for myriad capillary design and analysis applications as well as a tool for both education and inquiry.

This work was done by Yongkang Chen, Mark Weislogel, Ben Schaeffer, Ben Semerjian, and Lihong Yang of the Portland State University Office of Research and Sponsored Projects; and Gregory Zimmerli of Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. LEW-18824-1

Software Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2012 issue of Software Tech Briefs Magazine.

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