Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The science behind swimming

15.09.2014

From whales to larvae, study finds common principles at work in swimming

At nearly 100 feet long and weighing as much as 170 tons, the blue whale is the largest creature on the planet, and by far the heaviest living thing ever seen on Earth. So there's no way it could have anything in common with the tiniest fish larvae, which measure millimeters in length and tip the scales at a fraction of a gram, right?

Not so fast, says L. Mahadevan, the Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and of Physics.

Using simple hydrodynamics, a team of researchers led by Mahadevan was able to show that a handful of principles govern how virtually every animal -- from the tiniest fish to birds to gigantic whales propel themselves though the water. The study is described in a September 14 paper in Nature Physics.

"What we wanted to investigate was how the speed of an organism changes as a function of how large it is, how quickly it moves and how much it moves," Mahadevan said. "To resolve that in detail, however, is very complex, because there is a great deal of differences in morphology and what parts of the body different creatures use to swim. The question is: Is there anything in common across all these organisms? The answer, we found, is yes."

In an effort to uncover those common principles, Mahadevan working with a postdoctoral fellow in his group , Mattia Gazzola, and a colleague Mederic Argentina from the University of Nice, began by trying to unpack the physics of how different creatures swim.

"The traditional approach to swimming phenomena is to take a certain specimen and accurately characterize it via experiments and/or simulations, and try to generalize from there, but it is very hard to strip out specific biological effects from general principles," Gazzola said. "We instead thought that while swimmers exhibit a huge diversity in shapes and kinematics, at the end of the day they all live in the same media, water.

"Therefore we thought that if a unifying mechanistic principle existed, it had to lie in the constraints that the flow environment poses to all its inhabitants," he continued. "And this is a purely physical problem, much easier to solve since it is not affected by biological vagaries. What I like about this paper is that in one line of algebra we derived a compact formula that accounts for 50 years of experiments. This is an example of how powerful minimal modeling can be."

"The basic relationship we wanted to understand was how the input variables – namely the size of the organism, the amount an organism moves and how quickly it moves – control the output variable, which is effectively the speed at which it moves," Mahadevan explained. "What we found is that there is a specific relationship, which can be described by in terms of a simple scaling law with two limits."

The first, which corresponds to creatures moving at intermediate speeds, describes situations where the bulk of the resistance is caused by skin friction, because water "sticks" to the organism's body. At faster speeds, Mahadevan said, the resistance organisms face largely comes from pressure that builds up in front of and around them, which is described by the second limit.

"While it wasn't a surprise that the resistance changed at organisms moved faster, the fact that those challenges could be so simply described was interesting and provocative, because we are talking about organisms that range in size from a few millimeters to the size of a blue whale," Mahadevan said.

Armed with those observations, Mahadevan and colleagues turned to a host of empirical observations that had been made over the past 50-plus years. When those data were plotted on a graph, the researchers found that the swimming speed of virtually every organism, from fish larvae to frogs to birds, amphibians and even whales, could be described by one of the two equations.

The same also held true, Mahadevan said, when Gazzola created complex computer models to solve the governing equations of fluid dynamics to describe how different organisms swim.

"What is particularly interesting is that all the organisms essentially reach the hydrodynamic limits of performance," he said. "Our simple theory, which doesn't distinguish in any detailed way between something like a blue whale and fish larvae, except in the parameters of how large you are, much you move and how quickly you move, can describe all this diversity. That suggests there are general principles at work here."

Peter Reuell | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.harvard.edu/

Further reports about: Harvard Physics creatures larvae limits observations organism solve swimming

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Cancer diagnosis: no more needles?
25.05.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found
25.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung - Fritz-Lipmann-Institut e.V. (FLI)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>