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Wind tunnel

Bill Melbourne head shot
Bill Melbourne

Monash University currently has the largest wind tunnel testing facility of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Pioneered by Professor Bill Melbourne, it started as a pollutant dispersion testing facility. He recalls:

It was the first facility in the world that could heat the floor and give you a convective flow, like happens in the real world, or you could heat the ceiling and get a stably stratified flow.

Melbourne began seeking funding for the construction of the wind tunnel in the early 1980s. By 1985 he had received the majority of the funding needed. The Electricity Supply Association of Australia (ESAA) agreed to support the wind tunnel development with a financial contribution of $600,000. The ESAA’s response to the funding proposal outlined its support for the project:

The Monash University siting for the wind tunnel is economically and technically attractive. Professor Melbourne has many years experience in the field of wind tunnel modelling and has achieved international recognition for his work. His overseas contacts with researchers in this field, as well as his personal expertise, should ensure a top class facility. From the economic viewpoint, much of the infrastructure, such as workshop and computing facilities required for the operation of the wind tunnel already exist, as well as support and administration staff. … In conclusion we believe that present needs and perceived future needs merit the establishment of a national facility of the type being proposed ….

Atmospheric dispersion tunnel plan

Monash was also successful in getting a National Energy Research Development and Demonstration Council (NERDDC) grant of $700,000 for the development of the wind tunnel.

Much of the work conducted using the wind tunnel in the 1990s was for the USA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Monash developed a lot of the EPA’s procedures and much of their mathematical modellings are based on the measurements from the wind tunnel.

It was proposed at the time of construction that the tunnel would be used half of the time for commercial testing and half of the time for research. With further funding, the wind tunnel was upgraded to include a motor vehicle testing facility, which allowed for more wind engineering related testing.

By 1996 there were two major wind tunnel testing facilities at Monash University: a smaller 450 kilowatt wind tunnel and a 1 megawatt closed circuit wind tunnel. This larger tunnel is the largest testing facility in the Southern Hemisphere. It has the capability to test various structures up to 40 metres long, 12 metres wide and 5 metres tall.

Steve Dunell is Senior Technical Officer with Specialised Technical Services (STS) and has been involved with the recent redevelopment of the wind tunnel. Dunell explains how the process works:

Air comes from the fans at the front of the wind tunnel and moves through the testing area at speeds of up to 50m/sec. At the end of the ground floor of the tunnel, the air curves up to the top floor and moves in the opposite direction in a closed circuit. This is what is known as Closed Loop Wind Tunnel. The design allows different tests to be conducted in three working sections, one on the top and two on the bottom floor.

Technical officer George Perry with model of Mt Isa chimney stack used to calculate wind speed and test its effects
Technical officer George Perry with model of Mt Isa chimney stack used to calculate wind speed and test its effects

Today the wind tunnel is used for aeroelastic modelling of large bridges (including the Bolte Bridge), buildings and stadiums; testing the aerodynamics of vehicles and full-sized objects such as communications antenna; aeroacoustic and cooling analysis in both road and racing car design as well as other testing areas, including airplane, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and mirco UAV, truck, train, cycling and yachting.

Most recently the tunnel has been used to test the effects of high winds on a huge sun shade planned to be attached to the outside of a multi-story building. ‘These tests’, remarks Dunell, ‘can be done nowhere else in Australia and without the Monash Wind Tunnel, the company’s only option would have been to go overseas.’

The Monash Wind Tunnel is the best in the world for this type of work, comments Melbourne, ‘because it is a combination of a research facility and a commercial testing facility’. The facility aims to provide high quality service and expertise to the community, profession and industry; to educate the next generation of leaders by providing research and industry experience in aerodynamics and related areas; and to generate new knowledge and insight through research and development.



  1. Monash University Archives, Bill Melbourne Interview
  2. Monash University Archives, 87/0682 Research Assistance – grants – Electricity Supply Association of Australia - W Melbourne – establishment of an environmental wind tunnel
  3. http://www.monash.edu.au/pubs/monmag/issue3-99/item-04.html
  4. http://www.eng.monash.edu.au/mechanical/windtunnel/
  5. http://www.sts.com.au/Gallery/wind_tunnel.html
  6. Simon Marginson, Monash: Remaking the University, Allen & Unwin, New South Wales, 2000
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