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Experimental and numerical studies on convective heat transfer in a neonatal incubator


Thermo-neutrality is one of the major environmental factors affecting a premature or low-birth-weight neonate inside an incubator. Severe temperature differences inside an incubator lead to neonate heat loss, hypothermia and apnoea, which are closely related to air flow and air velocity. In the study, flow visualisations, hot-wire velocity measurements and computational fluid dynamics simulate the airflow inside a neonatal incubator. An anatomically correct neonate model is designed using a three-dimensional laser scanner system and a rapid prototyping machine. Flow visualisations demonstrate that large-scale rotating airflow is produced inside the chamber, and a number of small, stationary eddies are found in regions between the air inlet and the neonate. Hot-wire measurements show that air velocities along the long inlets are not uniform. Computational fluid dynamics show relatively uniform temperatures of about 34°C on the neonate's anterior aspect and the highest temperature of 36.1°C at the right armpit and the crotch. Flow fields from airflow visualisations, hot-wire measurements and computational fluid dynamics are very similar, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The small eddies produced between the neonate and the mattress could interfere with convective and evaporative heat transfers from the neonate. Therefore it is important to eliminate eddies around the neonate in future designs of neonatal incubators.

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Correspondence to Y. -H. Kim.

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Kim, Y.H., Kwon, C.H. & Yoo, S.C. Experimental and numerical studies on convective heat transfer in a neonatal incubator. Med. Biol. Eng. Comput. 40, 114–121 (2002).

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  • Neonatal incubator
  • Flow visualisations
  • Hot-wire anemometry
  • Rotating vortices
  • Turbulence