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!
Single-stranded DNA and RNA origami go live
15.12.2017 | Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard
New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists
15.12.2017 | Louisiana State University
A study carried out by an international team of researchers and published in the journal Physical Review X shows that ion-trap technologies available today are suitable for building large-scale quantum computers. The scientists introduce trapped-ion quantum error correction protocols that detect and correct processing errors.
In order to reach their full potential, today’s quantum computer prototypes have to meet specific criteria: First, they have to be made bigger, which means...
Since 2016, German and Spanish researchers, among them scientists from the University of Göttingen, have been hunting for exoplanets with the “Carmenes”...
DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.
Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...
MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
18.12.2017 | Information Technology
18.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.12.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science