The application of flow visualization in biological systems is becoming increasingly common in studies ranging from intracellular transport to the movements of whole organisms. In cell biology, the standard method for measuring cell-scale flows and/or displacements has been particle image velocimetry (PIV); however, alternative methods exist, such as optical flow constraint. Here we review PIV and optical flow, focusing on the accuracy and efficiency of these methods in the context of cellular biophysics. Although optical flow is not as common, a relatively simple implementation of this method can outperform PIV and is easily augmented to extract additional biophysical/chemical information such as local vorticity or net polymerization rates from speckle microscopy.
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