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Richard McLaughlin, Ph.D. - UNC-Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, NC, US

Richard McLaughlin, Ph.D. Richard McLaughlin, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Mathematics, College of Arts and Sciences | UNC-Chapel Hill


Richard McLaughlin specializes in fluid dynamics. He is co-director of the Joint Applied Math and Marine Sciences Fluid Lab.






RTP 180: Panel: How communicating research to wider audiences can help your academic career How Do Underwater Oil Plumes Form?



Richard McLaughlin is professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a leading expert on fluid dynamics.

McLaughlin is co-director (along with Kenan Professor of Mathematics Roberto Camassa) of the Joint Applied Mathematics and Marine Sciences Fluids Lab, an interdisciplinary research lab in the Carolina Center of Interdisciplinary and Applied Mathematics. The fluids lab is a collaborative effort between professors, postdoctoral research associates, graduate students, undergraduate students and high school students in the mathematics, marine sciences, biology and physics departments.

About $10 million in competitive National Science Foundation, U.S. Defense Department and National Institutes of Health grants have been awarded to research projects centered around fluids lab facilities, which include a 120-foot wave tank, state-of-the-art thermal lab and large-scale wind tunnel.

McLaughlin is also a member of the Carolina Center for Interdisciplinary Applied Mathematics, which started in 1996 as a result of a UNC initiative to provide expertise in mathematical modeling and computational science for the campus, and to integrate this expertise into research collaborations and undergraduate and graduate training. The center integrates research and educational activities in mathematics and its intimate ties with the physical, engineering, biological, medical and social sciences.

Areas of Expertise (5)

Fluid Dynamics

Bio-Fluid Transport

Mixing and Turbulent Transport

Mixing in Stratified Flow


Accomplishments (6)

Milton van Dyke Award (professional)


Top prize for poster at the 68th annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics. Awarded to the UNC Joint Applied Math and Marine Sciences Fluids Lab.

NSF Early Faculty Career Grant (personal)

1997 - 2003 $200,000

Instructorship Award (Teaching and Research) (professional)

1996 Department of Mathematics, University of Utah

NSF Travel Award (professional)


NSF Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowship (professional)

1994 - 1997

DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (professional)

1991 - 1994

Education (3)

Princeton University: Ph.D., Applied and Computational Mathematics 1994

Princeton University: M.S., Applied and Computational Mathematics 1991

University of Arizona: B.S., Mathematics 1989

Media Appearances (7)

UNC Joint Applied Math and Marine Sciences Fluids Lab wins top prize

College of Arts and Sciences  online


The UNC Joint Applied Math and Marine Sciences Fluids Lab won the top prize — the Milton van Dyke Award, a coveted poster award — at the 68th annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics. The posters are judged for scientific and artistic presentation. UNC winners included co-authors Roberto Camassa, Dan Harris and Richard McLaughlin in the department of mathematics and Pierre-Yves Passaggia, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of marine sciences. The poster is titled “Variable Density Vortex Ring Dynamics in Sharply Stratified Ambient Fluids.” “This truly demonstrates the interdisciplinary effort of the fluids lab,” said McLaughlin, the mathematics department chair.

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Mathematics research reveals that the shape of a pipe dramatically affects how pollutants and other chemicals will spread

UNC-Chapel Hill News  online


Researchers have long known and well-documented how dye disperses when injected into a fluid flowing through a pipe. But a team of mathematicians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has discovered that the size and shape of the pipe dramatically affects how the dye will disperse in the early moments after injection. Their results have major implications for drug delivery, chemical manufacturing, managing pollutants spilled in waterways or any application that involves mixing substances into fluids that are flowing.

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Focus: The Difference Between Round and Square Pipes

APS Physics  online


Now researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, led by Roberto Camassa and Richard McLaughlin, have derived equations and run computer simulations to study the distribution of dye for a variety of pipe shapes. They found that the distinctions are more dramatic than expected...

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Student’s work in fluids lab inspires math gift

College of Arts and Sciences  online

Chris Joy ’13 was so excited about his summer internship that the math major’s parents wanted other Carolina students to benefit from a similar experience. Bob and Molly Joy of Vonore, Tenn., created the Robert Joseph and Myra Ficklen Joy Excellence Fund in the department of mathematics after Chris spent the summer before his senior year working in Carolina’s fluids laboratory — home to the wave machine— simulating oil spills and collaborating with faculty and graduate students.

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Oil Plume Explained

CNN  tv


CNN interviews Richard McLaughlin and Roberto Camassa about the plume dynamics of the BP oil spill.

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Expert Head-Scratching on the Plumes

New York Times  online


The discovery that the oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout may be spreading beneath the sea in plumes of fine droplets came as dismal news early this week. If that observation holds up to further scientific scrutiny, it would mean that the true dimensions of the problem are still invisible, and sea life is being exposed to a heavy load of toxins. But the discovery, bad as it could prove to be for the ocean, has also created a fascinating problem for big brains of a certain kind. People who spend their time thinking about subjects like fluid dynamics, and turbulent plumes, and supercritical fluids, have gone into overdrive trying to figure out what might be going on a mile beneath the surface of the ocean.

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Why Did Huge Oil Plumes Form After the Gulf Spill?

National Geographic  online


"Oil and water don't naturally mix," said Richard McLaughlin, an applied mathematician at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. What happened is that the dispersants broke the oil into micro-droplets that merged with the deep-sea water, then rose slowly, said McLaughlin, who was researching ocean-mixing problems like these well before the Gulf oil spill. But the water at the seabed isn't the same as at the surface. Not only is it colder, it's saltier and therefore denser. The result is that the micro-droplets didn't float all the way up. Rather, they rose to the level at which they were the same density as the surrounding water—and stayed there, according to lab experiments by McLaughlin and colleagues Roberto Camassa and Brian White...

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Articles (3)

Optimal mixing of buoyant jets and plumes in strati ed uids: theory and experiments

Journal of Fluid Mechanics


R. Camassa, Z. Lin, R. M. McLaughlin, K. Mertens, C. Tzou, J. Walsh, and B. White. The influence of ambient fluid stratification on buoyant miscible jets and plumes is studied theoretically and experimentally. Given a fixed set of jet/plume parameters, and an ambient fluid stratification sandwiched between top and bottom homogeneous densities, a theoretical criterion is identified to show how step-like density profiles constitute the most effective mixers within a broad class of stable density transitions.

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Squaring the circle: geometric skewness and symmetry breaking for passive scalar transport in ducts and pipes

Physical Review Letters


Manuchehr Aminian, Francesca Bernardi, Roberto Camassa and Richard M. McLaughlin We study the role geometry plays in the emergence of asymmetries in diffusing passive scalars advected by pressure-driven flows in ducts and pipes of different aspect ratios. We uncover nonintuitive, multi-time-scale behavior gauged by a new statistic, which we term “geometric skewness,” which measures instantaneously forming asymmetries at short times due to flow geometry.

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Subsurface Trapping of Oil Plumes in Strati cation: Laboratory Investigations

Geophysical Monograph Series, American Geophysical Union


David Adalsteinsson, Roberto Camassa, Steven Harenberg, Zhi Lin, Richard M. McLaughlin, Keith Mertens, Jonathan Reis, William Schlieper, and Brian White. Monitoring and Modeling the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: A Record-Breaking Enterprise.

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