Gorgeous new research highlights some of the differences between fixed-wing flight and birds. Researchers trained a barn owl, tawny owl, and goshawk to glide through a cloud of helium-filled bubbles illuminated by a light sheet. By tracking bubbles’ movement after the birds’ passage, researchers could reconstruct the wake of these flyers.
As you can see in the animations above and the video below, the birds shed distinctive wingtip vortices similar to those seen behind aircraft. But if you look closely, you’ll see a second set of vortices, shed from the birds’ tails. This is decidedly different from aircraft, which actually generate negative lift with their tails in order to stabilize themselves.
Instead, gliding birds generate extra lift with their maneuverable tails, using them more like a pilot uses wing flaps during approach and landing. Unlike airplanes, though, birds rely on this mechanism for more than avoiding stall. It seems their tails actually help reduce their overall drag! (Image and research credit: J. Usherwood et al.; video credit: Nature News; submitted by Jorn C. and Kam-Yung Soh)
There’s a common demonstration of surface tension where a loop of string is placed in a soap film and then the film inside the loop is popped, making it suddenly form a perfect circle when the outer soap film’s surface tension pulls the string equally from every direction. In this video, researchers study a similar situation but with a few wrinkles.
Here the loop of string is replaced with an elastic ring, which has more internal stiffness and starts out entirely round within the soap film. Then the researchers pop the outer film. That burst instantly creates a stronger surface tension inside the ring, which causes it collapse inward. As the researchers note, this is the equivalent situation to applying an external pressure on the outside of the ring. The form of the buckling ring and film depends on just how large this “pressurization” is.
Thickening the elastic from a ring to a band alters the collapse, too. The thicker the elastic band, the harder it is to buckle in the plane of the soap film. So instead it wrinkles as the film collapses, which creates wrinkles in the soap film, too! (Image, video, and research credit: F. Box et al.; see also F. Box et al. on arXiv)
To make this heart, photographer Helene Caillaud flung paint off a tool attached to a drill bit, much like Fabian Oefner did in his “Black Hole” series. Caillaud, however, tweaked the set-up to create distinctive shapes at the center of her images, with centrifugal force creating the beautiful filaments spiraling outward. It’s a neat effect and a fitting way to celebrate Valentine’s Day here on FYFD! (Image credit: H. Caillaud)
Spiderman makes it look easy, but sticking to surfaces with enough force to climb them is a challenge at the human scale. These researchers tackled the problem with a new method of suction. Traditional suction devices are limited by their ability to seal at the edges. Any surface roughness that prevents a perfect seal creates a leak and fighting those leaks to maintain vacuum pressure requires larger and more powerful pumps.
In this work, the researchers essentially eschew a solid sealing mechanism for a liquid one. A fan inside each suction cup creates a spinning ring of water along the seal’s boundary that allows it to conform even to very rough surfaces without losing vacuum pressure. The researchers demonstrate the principle in action with a hexapod wall-climbing robot as well as with human-scale climbing systems.
But don’t plan your web-slinging adventures just yet! As you can see on the concrete wall example, the system leaks a lot of water, especially when disengaging the suction. Right now, you can only climb as far as your water supply allows. (Image and research credit: K. Shi and X. Li; via Spectrum; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)