As of today, the Wikipedia entry for the hummingbird explains that the bird's flight generates in its wake a single trail of vortices that helps the bird hover.
But after conducting experiments with hummingbirds in the lab, researchers at the University of California, Riverside propose that the hovering hummingbird instead produces two trails of vortices — one under each wing per stroke — that help generate the aerodynamic forces required for the bird to power and control its flight.
The results of the study could find wide application in aerospace technology and the development of unmanned vehicles for medical surveillance after natural disasters.
The researchers used high-speed image sequences — 500 frames per second — of hummingbirds hover-feeding within a white plume (emitted by the heating of dry ice) to study the vortex wake from multiple perspectives. They also used particle image velocimetry (PIV), a flow-measuring method used in fluid mechanics, to quantitatively analyze the flow around the hummingbirds. PIV allowed the researchers to record the particles surrounding the birds and extract velocity fields.
The films and velocity fields showed two distinct jets of downwards airflow — one under each wing of the hummingbird. They also revealed that vortex loops around each jet are shed during each upstroke and downstroke.
The researchers therefore propose in their paper published online last month in the journal Experiments in Fluids that the hummingbird's two wings form bilateral vortex loops during each wing stroke, which is advantageous for maneuverability.
"Previous studies have indicated that slow-flying bats and faster flying birds produced different structures in their wakes," said Douglas Altshuler, formerly an assistant professor of biology at UC Riverside, whose lab led the research. "We have been investigating the wake structure of hovering hummingbirds because this allows us to decouple the effects of different types of wings — bat versus bird — from different forward flight speeds.
Hummingbirds each weigh 2-20 grams. Because they can hover with high precision, they are able to drink nectar from flowers without any jiggling movement to their bodies. Besides using upstrokes and downstrokes, hummingbirds can rotate their wings. They can even flap their wings from front to back with a 180-degree amplitude.
"We began this study to investigate how the hummingbird used its tail while hovering," said Marko Princevac, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and a coauthor of the research paper. "After all, many insects also hover, but they have no tail. Instead, however, our research showed something interesting about the hummingbird's wings: the bilateral vortex structure. Hummingbirds hovering should cost a lot of energy but these birds are able to hover for long periods of time. Ideally, unmanned vehicles need to be operated with a very limited energy supply, which is why understanding how the hummingbird maximizes its use of energy is tremendously beneficial."
Sam Pournazeri, a former Ph.D. graduate student in Princevac's lab and a co-author on the paper, explained that in a downstroke, the air pressure difference developed as a result of wing movement creates flow from the bottom to the top of the wing. The result is a circular movement or vortex.
"Based on theories in fluid mechanics, this vortex should close either on the wing/body or create a loop around it," he said. "It's these loops that provide circulation around the wings and cause the hummingbird to overcome its weight. Hovering requires the bird to create a lift that cancels its body weight. Although the two-vortex structure we observed increases the hummingbird's energy consumption, it provides the bird a big advantage: a lot more maneuverability."
Next, the research team plans to study the hummingbird in a wind tunnel to closely observe how the bird transitions from hovering to forward motion, and vice versa.
"Current technology is not successfully mimicking how living things fly," Princevac said. "Drones don't hover, and must rely on forward motion. Research done using hummingbirds, like ours, can inform the development of the next generation of drones."
The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Altshuler, now a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, Canada.
Paolo S. Segre, a former UCR graduate student working with Altshuler at the University of British Columbia, also participated in the study. Pournazeri and Segre contributed equally to the research.
The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus will open a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.
Iqbal Pittawala | EurekAlert!
Pathogenic bacteria hitchhiking to North and Baltic Seas?
22.07.2016 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
Unconventional quasiparticles predicted in conventional crystals
22.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemische Physik fester Stoffe
Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.
Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...
Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases
Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...
Scaffolding and specialised workers help with the delivery – Heidelberg biochemists gain new insights into biogenesis
A type of scaffolding on which specialised workers ply their trade helps in the manufacturing process of the two subunits from which the ribosome – the protein...
Scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum München have developed a new mass spectrometry imaging method which, for the first time, makes it possible to analyze hundreds of metabolites in fixed tissue samples. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Protocols, explain the new access to metabolic information, which will offer previously unexploited potential for tissue-based research and molecular diagnostics.
In biomedical research, working with tissue samples is indispensable because it permits insights into the biological reality of patients, for example, in...
Chemists at the University of Basel have succeeded in using computer simulations to elucidate transient structures in proteins. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, the researchers set out how computer simulations of details at the atomic level can be used to understand proteins’ modes of action.
Using computational chemistry, it is possible to characterize the motion of individual atoms of a molecule. Today, the latest simulation techniques allow...
15.07.2016 | Event News
15.07.2016 | Event News
11.07.2016 | Event News
22.07.2016 | Information Technology
22.07.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
22.07.2016 | Life Sciences