Nature-Inspired Activities at NASA
Several GRC researchers are already making use of bio-inspiration. To collaborate please contact:
- Vikram Shyam: Periodic Table of Life (PeTaL)
- Isaiah Blankson: Penguin Feathers to Low Boom High Speed Flight
- Anthony Colozza: Dragonfly to Mars Entemopter (YouTube video)
- Danielle Koch: Reeds to Acoustic Dampers
- Sameer Kulkarni: Seal Whiskers to Probes and Sensors
- Gail Perusek: Bio-inspired Miniature Exercise Equipment for Human Research Program
- Paht Juangphanich and Vikram Shyam: Seal Whiskers to Turbine Blades
- Vikram Shyam and Milind Bakhle: Hummingbird to Distributed Electric Propulsion
- Timothy Peshek: Solar Electric Propulsion
- Andrew Trunek: In-Situ Resource Utilization
- Calvin Robinson and Herbert Schilling: Data Science and tools, Graphics and Visualization
- Ezra Mcnichols and Vikram Shyam: Natural Systems to Thermal Management Systems
NASA Seal Whisker Research Featured in Ask Nature
Whiskers are tactile sensory hairs found in almost all mammals. They are typically longer and stiffer than normal body hairs and grow outward in an ordered grid-like arrangement. Each whisker is connected to many sensory nerve cells at its base beneath the skin. These nerve cells can detect small deflections in the whisker as it physically interacts with its surroundings, relaying this information to the brain. The harbor seal, and other aquatic mammals, can even sense and analyze changes in water flow caused by prey fish or other seals. With whiskers that are sensitive to displacements of 1μm or less, harbor seals need some way to reduce whisker vibrations that can occur as the hairs move through water. Remarkably, harbor seals accomplish this with the unique form of their sensitive whiskers.
Taking a closer look at harbor seal whiskers shows that they have an undulating or wavy surface structure. The cross section of the whisker is an ellipse, but the size of it changes along the hair. This creates peaks and troughs every 1-3 mm along the hair. Normally, dragging a bluff object like a whisker through water creates vortices, or swirls of water, that would vibrate the whisker as they trailed off behind it. However, the shape of the whisker on its leading edge alters the flow of water over and behind the whisker as the seal swims. The whisker’s wavy leading edge creates a trail of swirling water behind the whisker (also called the wake) with equal pressure on either side and a gap between the whisker and vortices. This significantly lowers forces on the whisker and thus prevents vortex-induced vibrations. Having the whiskers as still as possible, even when swimming, enables harbor seals to sense small changes in water movement. This gives them the ability to search for and sense prey fish, other seals, or predators.
Seal Blade Low Drag Airfoil (Ask Nature)
Learn systematically from history to predict and shape our future. The Periodic Table of Life (PeTaL), pronounced “petal,” is an open-source tool to enable moving from discovery through design using inspiration from natural systems and human achievement. Read more about PeTaL or contribute to PeTaL on GitHub.