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9.1 Introductory Remarks

Dimensional analysis refers to techniques dealing with units or conversion to a unitless system. The definition of dimensional analysis is not consistent in the literature which span over various fields and times. Possible topics that dimensional analysis deals with are consistency of the units, change order of magnitude, applying from the old and known to unknown (see the Book of Ecclesiastes), and creation of group parameters without any dimensions. In this chapter, the focus is on the applying the old to unknown as different scales and the creation of dimensionless groups. These techniques gave birth to dimensional parameters which have a great scientific importance. Since the 1940s the dimensional analysis is taught and written in all fluid mechanics textbooks. The approach or the technique used in these books is referred to as Buckingham–\(\pi\)–theory. The\(\pi\)–theory was coined by Buckingham. However, there is another technique which is referred to in the literature as the Nusselt's method. Both these methods attempt to reduce the number of parameters which affect the problem and reduce the labor in solving the problem. The key in these techniques lays in the fact of consistency of the dimensions of any possible governing equation(s) and the fact that some dimensions are reoccurring. The Buckingham–\(\pi\)goes further and no equations are solved and even no knowledge about these equations is required. In Buckingham's technique only the dimensions or the properties of the problem at hand are analyzed. This author is aware of only a single class of cases were Buckingham's methods is useful and or can solve the problem namely the pendulum class problem (and similar). The dimensional analysis was independently developed by Nusselt and improved by his students/co–workers (Schmidt, Eckert) in which the governing equations are used as well. Thus, more information is put into the problem and thus a better understanding on the dimensionless parameters is extracted. The advantage or disadvantage of these similar methods depend on the point of view. The Buckingham–\(\pi\) technique is simpler while Nusselt's technique produces a better result. Sometime, the simplicity of Buckingham's technique yields insufficient knowledge or simply becomes useless. When no governing equations are found, Buckingham's method has usefulness. It can be argued that these situations really do not exist in the Thermo–Fluid field. Nusselt's technique is more cumbersome but more precise and provide more useful information. Both techniques are discussed in this book. The advantage of the Nusselt's technique are: a) compact presentation, b)knowledge what parameters affect the problem, c) easier to extent the solution to more general situations. In very complex problems both techniques suffer from in inability to provide a significant information on the effective parameters such multi–phase flow etc. It has to be recognized that the dimensional analysis provides answer to what group of parameters affecting the problem and not the answer to the problem. In fact, there are fields in thermo–fluid where dimensional analysis, is recognized as useless. For example, the area of multiphase flows there is no solution based on dimensionless parameters (with the exception of the rough solution of In the Buckingham's approach it merely suggests the number of dimensional parameters based on a guess of all parameters affecting the problem. Nusselt's technique provides the form of these dimensionless parameters, and the relative relationship of these parameters.


  • Dr. Genick Bar-Meir. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or later or Potto license.