Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Mechanical Engineering


Mechanical Engineering


Russell Westphal


An experimental investigation of the use low-cost microphones for unsteady total pressure measurement to detect transition from laminar to turbulent boundary layer flow has been conducted. Two small electret condenser microphones, the Knowles FG-23629 and the FG-23742, were used to measure the pressure fluctuations and considered for possible integration with an autonomous boundary layer measurement system. Procedures to determine the microphones’ maximum sound pressure levels and frequency response using an acoustic source provided by a speaker and a reference microphone. These studies showed that both microphones possess a very flat frequency response and that the max SPL of the FG-23629 is 10 Pa and the max SPL of the FG-23742 is greater than 23 Pa. Several sensor-probe configurations were developed, and the three best were evaluated in wind tunnel tests. Measurements of the total pressure spectrum, time signal, and the root-mean-square were taken in the boundary layer on a sharp-nose flat plate in the Cal Poly 2 foot by 2 foot wind tunnel at dynamic pressures ranging between 135 Pa and 1350 Pa, corresponding to freestream velocities of 15 m/s to 47 m/s. The pressure spectra were collected to assess the impact of the probe on the microphone frequency response. The two configurations with long probes showed peaks in the pressure spectra corresponding to the resonant frequencies of the probe. The root-mean-square of the pressure fluctuations did not vary much between the different probes. The root-mean-square of the pressure fluctuations collected in turbulent boundary layers were found to be 10% of the local freestream dynamic pressure and decreased to 3.5% as the freestream dynamic pressure was increased. The RMS of the pressure fluctuations taken in both laminar boundary layers and in the freestream varied between 0.5% and 2.5% of the local freestream dynamic pressure. The large difference between the RMS of the pressure fluctuations in laminar and turbulent boundary layers taken at low dynamic pressures suggests that this system is indeed capable of distinguishing between laminar and turbulent flow. The drop in the RMS of the pressure fluctuations as dynamic pressure increased is indicative of insufficient maximum sound pressure level of the microphone resulting in clipping of the pressure fluctuation; this is confirmed through inspection of the pressure time signal and spectrum. Thus, a microphone with higher maximum sound pressure level is needed for turbulence detection at higher dynamic pressures. Alternatively, it may be possible to attenuate the total pressure fluctuation signal.