Nanomechanical measurements of fluctuations in biological, turbulent, and confined flows
Lissandrello, Charles Andrew
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The microcantilever has become a ubiquitous tool for surface science, chemical sensing, biosensing, imaging, and energy harvesting, among many others. It is a device of relatively simple geometry with a static and dynamic response that is well understood. Further, because of it's small size, it is extremely sensitive to small external perturbations. These characteristics make the microcantilever an ideal candidate for a multitude of sensing applications. In this thesis dissertation we use the microcantilever to conduct numerous physical measurements and to study fundamental phenomena in the areas of fluid dynamics, turbulence, and biology. In each area we use the cantilever as a sensitive transducer in order to probe fluctuating forces. In micro and nanometer scale flows the characteristic length scale of the flow approaches and is even exceeded by the fluid mean free path. This limit is beyond the applicability of the Navier-Stokes equations, requiring a rigorous treatment using kinetic theory. In our first study, we conduct a series of experiments in which we use a microcantilever to measure gas dissipation in a nanoscopically confined system. Here, the distance between the gas molecules is of the same order as the separation between the cantilever and the walls of its container. As the cantilever is brought towards the wall, the flow becomes confined in the gap between the cantilever and the wall, affecting the resonant frequency and dissipation of the cantilever. By carefully tuning the separation distance, the gas pressure, and the cantilever oscillation frequency, we study the flow over a broad range of dimensionless parameters. Using these measurements, we provide an in-depth characterization of confinement effects in oscillating nanoflows. In addition, we propose a scaling function which describes the flow in the entire parameter space and which unifies previous theories based on the slip boundary condition and effective viscosity. In our next study, we seek to gain a better understanding of the transition to turbulence in a channel flow. We use a cantilever embedded in the channel wall to perform two sets of experiments: first, we study transition to turbulence triggered by the natural imperfections of the channel walls and second, we study transition under artificially added inlet noise. Our results point to two very different paths to turbulence. In the first case, wall effects lead to an extremely intermittent transitional flow and in the second case, broadband fluctuations originating at the inlet lead to less intermittent flow that is more reminiscent of homogeneous turbulence. The two experiments result in random flows in which high-order moments of near-wall fluctuations differ by orders of magnitude. Surprisingly however, the lowest order statistics in both cases appear qualitatively similar and can be described by a proposed noisy Landau equation. The noise, regardless of its origin, regularizes the Landau singularity of the relaxation time and makes transitions driven by different noise sources appear similar. Our results provide evidence of the existence of a finite turbulent relaxation time in transitional flows due to the persistent nature of noise in the system. In our last study, we turn to biologically-driven fluctuations from bacterial motion. Recent studies suggest that the motion of living bacteria could serve as a good indicator of bacteria species and resistance to antibiotics. To gain a better understanding of these fluctuations, we measure the nanomechanical motion of bacteria adhered to a chemically functionalized silicon microcantilever. A non-specific binding agent is used to attach E. coli to the surface of the device. The motion of the bacteria couples efficiently to the cantilever well below its resonance frequency, causing a measurable increase in its mechanical fluctuations. We vary the bacterial concentration over two orders of magnitude and are able to observe a corresponding change in the amplitude of fluctuations. Additionally, we administer antibiotics (Streptomycin) to kill the bacteria and observe a decrease in the fluctuations. A basic physical model is used to explain the observed spectral distribution of the mechanical fluctuations. These results lay the groundwork for understanding the motion of microorganisms adhered to surfaces and for developing micromechanical sensors for rapid bacterial identification and antibiotic resistance testing.