Brown University School of Engineering

Brown Engineers and Biologists to Receive New Wind Tunnel for Biological Flight Study

September 12, 2017

The new wind tunnel facility will enable animal flight scientists at Brown and throughout the U.S. to work with a more diverse selection of animals and employ more sophisticated experimental techniques in the study of biomechanics, animal flight, and bio-inspired robotics. Brown’s pioneering research in animal flight, and in particular bat flight, continues to be at the forefront of this growing field.

Brown University School of Engineering Professors Kenny Breuer and Sharon Swartz have received a National Science Foundation – Major Research Instrumentation program award to be used for a new million-dollar animal flight and aeromechanics wind tunnel for use at Brown and beyond for the continued study of biological flight. Both Breuer and Swartz have dual appointments in both the School of Engineering and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Scientists at Brown have pioneered many experiments in the field of animal flight, and in particular bat flight. Animal flight research has become an area of intense research among both biologists and bio-inspired roboticists. These groups use advanced diagnostic tools to better understand the kinematics, mechanics and dynamics of biological flight, power requirements for flight, physiological and muscular processes during flight and sensing and control processes associated with flight and life on the wing.

“The School of Engineering at Brown University is already to home to one of the few close-loop low-turbulence animal flight wind tunnels in the United States,” Breuer said. “However, the current facility is dated and in need of new investment. The new facility will be larger, capable of operating at higher speeds and will be equipped with the most advanced equipment for making aerodynamic and biological measurements.”

The new wind tunnel will permit animal flight scientists at Brown University and throughout the U.S. and the world to expand their research, working with a more diverse selection of animals and employing more sophisticated experimental techniques in the study of biomechanics, animal flight and bio-inspired robotics. It will enable advanced measurement of kinematics and dynamics of animal fight, muscle function, echolocation, sensing and control during flight. In addition to biological testing, the wind tunnel will be used by a diverse community of researchers in traditional aerodynamics and fluid mechanics research, allowing for transformative experiments at larger scale and higher wind speeds (contributing to higher Reynolds numbers) on critical projects related to Vortex Dynamics, the use of Cyber-Physical systems for fluid-structure interactions and the development of unsteady aerodynamics for renewable energy harvesting.

Because the facility is so unique and uncommon, external researchers from diverse communities including major research universities, undergraduate teaching colleges, private and public institutions are expected to participate in research programs using the new wind tunnel and its associated instrumentation. There will be trainings in advanced measurement techniques, and workshops and symposia on biological aerodynamics and control.