Bird Flight Biomechanics

Jasmin Wong is a PhD Candidate in Dr. Doug Altshuler's lab at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Jasmin studies how changes in the shape of a bird's wing alter the flow of air passing around the wing. Find out how she became interested in the biomechanics of bird flight and how physical experiments, as well as computer models, help her unlock the mysteries of flight.

My interest lies in the kind of structural dynamics of the bird wing. So as a bird can extend and flex its wing what actually happens is that it actuates so much of that movement only with components in the leading edge, but the rest of the bird wing is just these passive feather components that are very flexible, very lightweight, but they can support all the forces necessary for flight. My research looks at: as the bird changes its wing shape from an extended to a folded position, how those feathers get rearranged and affect the overall flexibility of the wing. As the flexibility changes, the interaction of a flexible solid with a fluid will generate some sort of deformation, and that in turn affects the aerodynamic performance of the wing.

My name is Jasmine Wong and I'm a PhD candidate in Doug Altshuler's lab in the Department of Zoology here at the University of British Columbia. Growing up I was always really interested in flight and planes and aircraft. My dad has had a glider's license for a while and he taught me about planes with Microsoft Flight Simulator so I've kind of always been interested in flight. During my masters and my undergrad research I discovered that you could actually do this interdisciplinary work and combine my interest in physics and engineering and math with the understanding of the natural world. For my masters i worked on cardiovascular blood flow but in my PhD, I had the opportunity to apply analytical and computational work, as you can see here, with my interest in flight, and specifically in bird flight. I was able to apply this interdisciplinary concept to understanding how birds fly and how it's useful to them getting around the world and being so successful in nature.

This is a computer simulation of a very kind of simplified wing model. It's an extended wing and you can see that it's deforming a bit under airflow. This is slowed down by three times, but what's visualized here is the vortex structures behind the wing as the flow is being deformed... is being affected by the deformation of the wing and the vortex structures kind of give us an indication of the aerodynamic performance of the wing because vorticity is related to lift production.

My research involves a pretty fun mix of experimental work as well as computational work which I think is very valuable. So I get the opportunity to collect a lot of my data with actual bird specimens and sometimes actual birds, and after i have that data I can then use computational techniques such as fluid simulations or mathematical modelling to further explore how those measured parameters can affect bird flight and why we don't really see parameters beyond that, because with a computer you can actually simulate things that don't exist in nature. So a combination of both experimental and computational techniques has been a really fun way of kind of understanding how nature works and why it might work like that.


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