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September 29th, 2010

Intriguing scientists and engineers among 2010 MacArthur ‘genius’ Fellows

Published on September 29th, 2010 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2audOlniaQ&feature=player_embedded preview=force]

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named 23 new MacArthur Fellows for 2010. Included in this list is John Dabiri whose work with fluid dynamics we’ve featured several times on this blog.

Dabiri is a biophysicist who studies animal locomotion, specifically the movement of jellyfish. Dabiri has shown that explaining  the mechanisms of locomotion depends on detailed mathematical analysis of the fluid vortex rings that jellyfish form in the surrounding water by contracting their bell.

Dabiri’s research has applications in fluid dynamics, including the design of wind power generators, and bioinspired robotic locomotion.

While studying the vortices left behind by fish swimming in a school, Dabiri noticed that some rotated clockwise, while others rotated counter-clockwise. Dabiri, therefore, wants to examine whether alternating the rotation of vertical-axis turbines in close proximity will help improve efficiency.

The second observation he made was that the vortices formed a “staircase” pattern, which contrasts with current wind farms that place turbines neatly in rows. With optimal placement, Dabiri thinks ten times more energy could be harvested out of the same wind farm using vertical instead of horizontal turbines.

Dabiri is testing his ideas in partnership with Windspire Energy.

Some of our older posts featuring Dabiri and others’ work on jellyfish can be seen here:

John Blottman on bioinspiration and jellyfish

Video of the week: Smart materials and ‘bioinspiration’

School of fish offers new school of thought for turbine design

MacArthur Fellows each receive $500,000 in “no strings attached” support over the next five years. A full list of 2010 recipients can be seen here. While all of this year’s 20 MacArthur winners are worth checking out, materials science folks and technophiles might want to read about three other winners:

Nergis Mavalvala (MIT) research focuses on minimizing, if not circumventing, barriers imposed by quantum physics on the precision of standard optical interferometers, such as cooling the large components of the device into a coherent quantum state. She is also exploring squeezed coherent states and optical springs and other topics that are found “at the intersection of optics, condensed matter, and quantum mechanics.”

 

Michal Lipson (Cornell University) is a leader in silicon-based photonics. She is designing optical and hybrid opto-electronic devices, creating, for example, waveguides by etching silicon. Her approaches to fabrication engineering is opening new frontiers for using light for optical information-processing devices and computers.

 

Drew Barry (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research) is primarily a biomedical illustrator, but his visualization work illustrates what could and should be done in chemistry, physics and engineering. The results are animations that show, as he puts it, “What’s happening down at the microscopic level. It is an accurate representation of, ‘If you could see it, it would look something like this.’

 


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