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Fish’s Novel Propulsion Method

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Discovery of Fish’s Novel Propulsion Method, Reported in Science, Has Engineering Applications

Researchers studying the swimming mechanisms of fish have discovered a novel method by which fish swimming in schools take advantage of the energy of eddies in flowing water. The movement of the fish could be likened to tacking, the back-and-forth motion that allows a sailboat to move forward passively, if somewhat indirectly, against a breeze.

The study provides the first direct view of the technique fish use to exploit vortices generated by the swimming movements of other members of a school. This Sea Grant research, reported in the November 28 issue of Science, involved scientists from both MIT and Harvard and was led by Michael S. Triantafyllou, a professor in MIT's Department of Ocean Engineering.

Using a tank designed to mimic a turbulent waterway, the scientists found that fish essentially “hitch a ride” and are propelled along by the eddies, allowing them to swim against a current with considerably less exertion than is required in calmer settings. The work could have many engineering applications, from the design of better fish ladders and passageways at hydroelectric dams to autonomous underwater vehicles capable of negotiating turbulent flows in natural habitats. Read more about the research online at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/nr/2003/fish.html.

CONTACT: Michael Triantafyllou, Professor of Engineering,
phone 617-253-4335, e-mail [email protected]
or Elizabeth Thomson, MIT News Office,
phone 617-258-5402, e-mail [email protected].
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