I am a PhD student who does not have extensive computational experience seeking advice from those experienced with computational modelling as to which method would be most appropriate for solving my particular problem.
The Salvinia is a small floating fern. Its leaves have upon them a forest-like structure of fronds, with a particular shape and particular regions of hydrophobia and hydrophilia. This structure, also found elsewhere in nature, allows the Salvinia to maintain a persistent, stable air layer on its surface due to the phenomenon of surface tension.
For those familiar with the phenomenon of capillary action, this physical scenario is closely related, and involves many of the same considerations.
In brief, the interface between the air and the water is often constructed according to the method of Gauss. Operating on a variational principle, this method involves writing the free surface energy, the "wetting energy" due to contact with the solid boundaries (fronds) and gravitational potential (if desired) as action functionals to be minimised. It is also usually desirable to impose a condition on the volume bounded by the surface, specifying that it should not change under the variation, in order to fix a unique surface with respect to translations.
Classical formulations have viewed the surface as a height function over a euclidean domain. This can cause problems when the surface curves back on itself, as in the case of some sessile drops, for example. Thus, I have written the action functionals in terms of functions $X^A$ (where $A=1,2,3$) which define the embedding of the surface into three-dimensional euclidean space.
Why is this a problem?
The difficulty I have encountered is that the solid boundaries (fronds) do not have a simple geometry. Take, for example, the case where the fronds are cylinders. It is then possible to define the surface as a function $u(x,y)$ over a domain $\Omega$. The functional is can then be decomposed into an interior term and a boundary term using the divergence theorem, and solved using a finite element method.
Now consider the (still relatively simple) case where the frond is a cone, rather than a cylinder. Now, as the surface moves up and down vertically, the location and shape of the boundary as viewed in the $(x,y)$ plane changes, depending on the height and curvature of the surface.
What I have already tried
I have produced solutions for the cylinder case using FEMLAB, and replicated those results with COMSOL. However, I was unable to think of a way to incorporate more complicated boundary structures (even simple ones such as a cone).
I have had slightly more success with the Surface Evolver, developed by Ken Brakke. This is also a finite-element-style scheme, which works by evolving an initial surface using a gradient descent method. The software is stable and well-written, and I have been able to produce results for a cylinder, a cone and hyperboloid. However, as the solid boundaries must be defined as level-set constraints, I assume that building more complex solid boundaries would require overlapping level-set constraints and some criteria for switching between them appropriately.
I am aware of several different methods which may be applicable, including: Volume-of-Fluid methods, Level-Set Methods (Osher & Sethian), Finite Element Methods for PDEs and the Dorfmeister-Pedit-Wu algorithm. I have been endeavouring to determine for myself whether any or all of these might be appropriate, but due to my limited computational experience, I am quite unsure as to what method might be appropriate.
I am not attempting, in any way, to avoid the long and possibly laborious process of learning the ins and outs of a computational method. If referred by consensus or expert advice to an appropriate method, I will most happily plow into every piece of material I can find on the subject until I am able to address my problem. At this stage, I simply do not have the breadth of knowledge necessary to investigate every possible method and assess each for its strengths and weaknesses with respect to my problem.
Is there a computational method, or already-existing software package, which is appropriate for modelling fluid-air interfaces with solid boundaries of complicated geometry?
With thanks in anticipation,