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Aerodynamic force production and efficiency during wing rotation in flapping flight

Project Description

Insects are the most agile and manoeuvrable of all flying animals and far surpass anything that humans can create at similar scales. Part of their aerial ability comes from having remarkably fine control over their wing movements where subtle changes to the wings’ rotations can dramatically alter the corresponding aerodynamic forces. However, there are consistent, unexplained contradictions between how insects actually move their wings and what might be predicted by mechanical and computation models.

The aim of this PhD is to understand how insects make use of complex wing movements to balance the trade-offs between aerodynamic force production and efficiency. The student will use a range of state-of-the-art methods including multi-camera high speed imaging, high-speed macrography, 3D printing and aerodynamic measurements. This will allow us to create new models of insect flight and see how wing shape and movements vary across different species with differing behaviours and abilities (e.g. predators vs prey and hovering vs fast-forward flight).
The output from this research will inform how evolution has shaped the design of wings and the flight motor while also providing design principles for the development of bio-inspired micro air vehicles.

The PhD will be jointly supervised by Dr Simon Walker (lead supervisor) and Dr Graham Askew (co-supervisor). Please contact Dr Simon Walker () for informal enquiries.

Supervisor websites:

Funding Notes

White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership in Mechanistic Biology
4 year fully-funded programme of integrated research and skills training, starting Oct 2020:
• Research Council Stipend
• UK/EU Tuition Fees
• Conference and research funding

At least a 2:1 honours degree or equivalent. We welcome students with backgrounds in biological, chemical or physical sciences, or mathematical backgrounds with an interest in biological questions.

EU candidates require 3 years of UK residency to receive full studentship

Not all projects will be funded; the DTP will appoint a limited number of candidates via a competitive process.

View Website


Bomphrey, R. J., Nakata, T., Phillips, N. & Walker, S. M. (2017). Smart wing rotation and trailing-edge vortices enable high frequency mosquito flight. Nature. doi; 10.1038/nature21727

Walker, S. M., Schwyn, D. A., Mokso, R., Wicklein, M., Müller, T., Doube, M. Stampanoni, M., Krapp, H. G., & Taylor, G .K. (2014). In Vivo time-resolved microtomography reveals the mechanics of the blowfly flight motor. PLOS Biology. 12, e1001823. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001823

Walker, S. M., Thomas, A. L. R. & Taylor, G. K. (2012). Operation of the alula as an indicator of gear change in hoverflies. J. Roy. Soc. Interface 9(71), 1194-1207. doi:10.1098/rsif.2011.0617

How good is research at University of Leeds in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 60.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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