Friday, November 11, 2011

Robojelly, Wine Swirling and Supernovae

What do jellyfish robots, wine glasses and exploding stars have in common? They are all subjects of several novel research projects that will be presented at APS' Annual Meeting for the Division of Fluid Dynamics between November 20 and 22. Held at the Baltimore Convention Center, the meeting is celebrating its 64th year of unveiling exciting physics research. Below is a glimpse at some of the fascinating presentations to be presented at this year's meeting.

Supernova Remnant EO102-72 with X-rays (blue), optical wavelengths (green) and radio (red). Image Courtesy NASA/CXC/SAO

Mini Machines

Two of the highlighted presentations tackle the challenge of mimicking the motion of insects and jellyfish, respectively. A team from Virginia Tech has been developing a robot—fittingly called Robojelly—that moves just like a jellyfish. Until recently, the device has been missing a critical component of the robot's "bell" shape that allows for more fluid motion. With the new section, called a flexible margin, the robot can move more naturally while increasing its thrust production and efficiency. Scientists hope to use Robojelly for underwater reconnaissance, chemical detection and wildlife observation.

While the Virginia Tech team has been investigating maritime applications for robots, researchers at Brown University have looked to the sky. The team hopes to develop the groundwork for making flying mini-robots more stable. For their research, the team analyzed variously-shaped paper "bugs" to see which one had the most stable flight. Counterintuitively, the shapes that were most top-heavy flew the best. With more development, the team hopes to apply their research to micro-air vehicles that could be used to search through tight spaces such as collapsed buildings.

Images—Top: An image of RoboJelly courtesy Virginia Tech. Bottom: A mini flying robot. Image Courtesy E. Steltz/University of California, Berkeley

Wine Swirling and Bubble Explosions

Any wine connoisseur can attest to the importance of swirling wine in a glass before taking a sip. Swirling releases the wine's characteristic scent, but what exactly is going on? Swiss Researchers from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne think they've uncovered some of the mystery to wine swirling. Using state-of-the-art instrumentation, the team analyzed the waves generated in a swirling glass and measured fluid velocity. According to their research, you should adapt your swirling to your particular wine glass. Different shaking diameters and speeds oxygenate the wine better in different glass shapes, leading to maximum imbibing enjoyment.

Researchers from the same Swiss university have also been conducting research where there's little place for alcohol: 25,000 feet up aboard a European Space Agency parabolic flight. Aboard the flight, researchers shocked tiny water bubbles in microgravity during the roller coaster flight and filmed the results with high-speed cameras. The bubbles consequently expanded and cooled until the surrounding pressure from the liquid pushed back, collapsing the bubble. After collapsing, a shock wave reverberated inside the drop, forming new bubbles that sent thin jets of water in all directions. While the research has applications for turbine corrosion, the researchers found that the droplet's behavior curiously mirrored that of exploding stars.

Images—Top: Wine glass image courtesy Rick Audet. Bottom: A parabolic flight. Image Courtesy ESA.


For a more complete list of abstracts for the meeting, take a look at this press release from the American Institute of Physics. You can find the meeting's main site here.

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