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!
Colorectal cancer risk factors decrypted
13.07.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Stoffwechselforschung
Algae Have Land Genes
13.07.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
13.07.2018 | Event News
13.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
13.07.2018 | Life Sciences