Chaotic rotation of a towed elliptical cylinder

G. D. Weymouth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper I consider the self-excited rotation of an elliptical cylinder towed in a viscous fluid as a canonical model of nonlinear fluid-structure interactions with possible applications in the design of sensors and energy extraction devices. First, the self-excited ellipse system is shown to be analogous to the forced bistable oscillators studied in classic chaos theory. A single variable, the distance between the pivot and the centroid, governs the system bifurcation into bistability. Next, fully coupled computational fluid dynamics simulations of the motion of the cylinder demonstrate limit cycle, period doubling, intermittently chaotic and fully chaotic dynamics as the distance is further adjusted. The viscous wake behind the cylinder is presented for the limit-cycle cases and new types of stable wakes are characterized for each. In contrast, a chaotic case demonstrates an independence of the wake and structural states. The rotational kinetic energy is quantified and correlated to the vortex shedding and the trajectory periodicity. Chaotic and high-period system responses are found to persist when structural damping is applied and for Reynolds numbers as low as 200.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-398
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • flow-structure interactions
  • nonlinear dynamical systems
  • vortex shedding


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