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Flying underwater: multidisciplinary approaches to understanding the swimming dynamics of penguins

Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering

Dr B Parslew , Dr Katharine Smith , Dr W Sellers Saturday, October 10, 2020 Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Penguins are highly adapted for both efficient cruising and rapid manoeuvring during underwater locomotion. From a biomechanical perspective some progress has been made into understanding the fluid dynamics surrounding their morphology, including the potential role of bubbles in reducing drag. Much less is known about the detailed mechanics of their propulsive system – the flippers – and how their propulsive efficiency varies between deep-water and near-surface swimming. This is a pertinent biological question given the wealth of observations of near-surface swimming, and the lack of explanation for this behaviour from a physics perspective. To tackle this problem this project will examine penguin propulsive biomechanics by combining markerless motion capture techniques for real animals, with engineered robotic systems that emulate flipper dynamics.

The project builds on the group’s existing analyses in several areas: i) markerless 3d motion capture methods have been developed within the group and applied to terrestrial locomotion (Sellers and Hirasaki, 2014), and more recently to underwater penguin gliding (Bribiesca, Sellers, Parslew, in review); ii) flapping-wing propulsion dynamics have been assessed in aerial locomotion using bespoke in-house models (Parslew, 2015) and these are extensible to swimming animals, and also useful as a design tool for a robotics experiment; iii) comparative anatomy and high biofidelity musculoskeletal simulation. In addition, this project would be complemented by an existing collaboration with an engineering project that applies more advanced computational fluid dynamics approaches to analysing the flowfields around penguin bodies (Revell, MACE).

The project is well suited to candidates who are interested in applying software and engineering techniques to solving biological problems. Students with practical experience of programming, electronics, and robotics, or those looking to develop their skills in these areas, are encouraged to apply. The project is expected to produce high quality outputs suitable for publication in some of the leading biomechanics and biology-engineering interdisciplinary journals, such as J. Roy. Soc Interface and Science Robotics.

Funding Notes

As an equal opportunities employer, we welcome applications from all suitably qualified persons. As the Department is committed to the principles of the Race Equality Charter Mark and Athena SWAN, we would particularly welcome applications from women and the black and minority ethnic (BME) community, who are both currently under-represented at this grade. All appointments will be made on merit.

General enquiries relating to the postgraduate application process within the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace & Civil Engineering should be directed to: Martin Lockey ().
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