2014 Spring: Falling, Flying, Flipping, Fluttering: Investigating the dynamics of minimal animal locomotion
The goal of this experimental study is to investigate flying and optimal lift generation with minimal 
designs. Following the footsteps of J.C. Maxwell (1854), who first described the fluttering motion of a 
piece of paper falling in air under the influence of gravity, you will study the optimal passive motion of 
solid objects falling through a fluid under the influence of gravity. The following problem will be 
considered: given a fixed volume (or mass) of a given material, is there an optimal design or geometrical 
distribution of the material allowing the wing to generate maximum lift and remain airborne for the 
longest time. For instance, how does curvature or wing thickness influence the velocity at which the 
wing falls? 
For this project, you will need to design and build the experimental set up, determine and characterize a 
simple design space for the falling objects as well as collect and analyze experimental data. High-speed 
imaging is available to investigate how the dynamics, lift generation and descent rate depend on the 
geometry of the wings. 


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