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GUEST EDITORIAL COMSOL
NEWS
COMSOL Multiphysics® Brings Innovation
to Academia and Industry
by CARL D. MEINHART
I use COMSOL Multiphysics® software in both academia and I founded Numerical Design, Inc. in 2012 and since its
industry to solve complex multidisciplinary problems. The inception, it has been a COMSOL Certi ed Consultant
reason is simple: What would previously require a custom company. We serve a variety of industries in technical elds
numerical algorithm, from advanced multiphysics applications such as micro uidics, electromagnetics, chemical engineering,
to optimization analysis, can be easily solved by and many others.
COMSOL® software.
We work on many micro uidics applications occurring
At the University of California, Santa Barbara, COMSOL has on length scales ranging from tens of nanometers to
been incorporated into several graduate and undergraduate tens of microns, and time scales on the order of a few
classes. For example, in the Introduction to Multiphysics microseconds. Because of the small length scales and short
Simulation class, we teach predominately mechanical time scales, it is often very dif cult to instrument devices
engineering seniors and graduate students. This course for experimental performance characterization. Fortunately,
provides seniors with the necessary skills to use COMSOL COMSOL Multiphysics allows us to simulate these devices and
for the design and optimization of their year-long capstone numerically design them for optimal performance.
“With COMSOL, we are able to We routinely design micro uidics devices that would be
impossible to create by instrumenting hardware prototypes.
quickly simulate and analyze many Furthermore, the microfabrication process for many
design concepts, and optimize micro uidic devices can cost tens of thousands of dollars
the designs, before committing to per microfabrication run and may take, say, six months to
complete. This large cost in both time and money can make
actual hardware fabrication.” multiple design iterations impractical. With COMSOL, we
are able to quickly simulate and analyze many design
projects. It allows students to iterate through a variety of concepts and optimize them, before committing to
design ideas in the fall quarter of senior year, before they ever actual hardware fabrication.
build hardware. This process saves signi cant time and energy,
and teaches students modern industrial design practices. There are many optimization tools available commercially.
However, for multiphysics-based shape optimization, COMSOL
We’re also planning to use custom applications created with is the ideal tool for the design of complex structures that
the Application Builder. Apps will most likely rst be used cannot be engineered strictly from rst principles. In one
to teach undergraduate laboratory classes. Students can use industrial example, we recently conducted a 10-parameter
pre-built applications to simulate physical experiments and optimization of a nonlinear multiphysics problem. If all
predict the expected results before actually performing them possible parametric combinations were studied and each
in the lab. During the analysis stage, students will compare parameter was swept with, say, 10 steps, the result would
simulation and experimental results to understand the physics be 1010 simulations. Assuming each nonlinear sweep
as well as experimental and numerical errors. took approximately 30 minutes to solve, it would take
approximately 570,000 years to complete. By using COMSOL,
Many projects are multidisciplinary in nature, spanning we can optimize the problem within approximately one day.
the elds of engineering, chemistry, physics, and biology. The resulting geometric structure is non-intuitive and could
One unique advantage of COMSOL is that vastly different not have been predicted a priori.
physics can be easily coupled to solve research problems or
to answer scienti c questions that previously required years ABOUT THE AUTHOR
of developing dedicated numerical algorithms. This exibility
allows researchers to spend more time thinking about the Dr. Carl Meinhart is a professor of Mechanical
physics and less time worrying about the numerics. Engineering at the University of California, Santa
Barbara. He earned his PhD from the University of
One example is in the eld of micro uidics, where AC Illinois in 1994. Since coming to UCSB in 1996, his
electrothermal ow can be used to drive heterogeneous research has focused on developing microﬂuidic
chemical reactions. These models require us to consider devices and investigating their fundamental
electrostatics, heat transfer, uid ow, and chemical reactions. transport mechanisms. Dr. Meinhart is also founder
To further increase the high delity of our numerical and CEO of Numerical Design, Inc., which is a
simulations, our mathematical models also take into account COMSOL Certiﬁed Consultant company based in
the fact that material properties are temperature-dependent. Santa Barbara, CA. Dr. Meinhart is a fellow of the
The models allow the physics to be fully coupled and interact American Physical Society.
exactly as they do in the real world.
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