Particle image velocimetry (PIV) has transformed fluid mechanics research in recent years. PIV also holds the possibility to transform fluids engineering undergraduate education with the ability of students to get hands-on experience in visualization of real flow fields. One barrier to use of PIV is the cost of a system. Research grade systems are often over $100,000 and inaccessible to many undergraduate students. Recent availability of low-cost high-frame-rate digital cameras, lasers, and public domain software offer potential accessibility for PIV for many labs at academic institutions.

In this paper we describe the development of a PIV system for under $1000 including specific components and their costs. In our lab this system is currently being used for several liquid flow experiments including obtaining the flow field in and near small bifurcations. Although we are using the system for liquid flows, it may be used for gas flows as well. One issue that is addressed is the cost of flow seeding — this has been solved by using pulverized green algae as seed particles with a strong reflection by a 532 nm green laser.

The system is small and portable and is useful for observing flow in locations that are not of direct interest for experiments, but may have a bearing on flow conditions in experimental measurements; such as upstream of test sections. We describe some examples of how we have used the lost-cost PIV system in our lab and how it can be used for fluids engineering education and research. The current research application of this system is performing loss coefficient calculations in a test section using the energy dissipation.

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