Biomimicry 101: Turbulence and Chaos Theory

eagles-wingsFigure: The upward curvature (called winglets) found on the tips of wings in certain bird species, such as the bald eagle, increases aerodynamic efficiency by helping reduce drag.

When you ponder biomimicry, think design, intelligent design, and creation, but please don’t think evolution. And when considering biomimetic applications, let your imagination know no bounds.

Turbulence is the name for the small eddies that break off of larger ones; it is dissipative; it is unstable and dynamical. In fact, the study of turbulence is at the core of chaos and non-linear, dynamical systems – a subfield within mathematics with special appeal to mathematical physicists. For instance, the vortices (i.e., turbulence) that whirl off the wings of Boeing or Airbus passenger jets will differ greatly from those off the most sophisticated jet fighters, such as the F-18 Super Hornet. No matter what, each plane has its own “fingerprint” when it comes to air flow dynamics across their wings. And this characteristic signature is even more complex and dynamical for sweep-wing planes, such as the now retired but amazing F-14 Tomcat.

Of interest, just yesterday, July 19th, 2019, Airbus released a conceptual model of a large passenger prop plane with splayed wingtips and a fanned tail. This “hybrid” design attempts to reduce as much of the turbulent air flow as possible by mimicking the wings of soaring eagles.

Remark: Current models of many mid-sized to large passenger jets and cargo planes already have winglets to minimize the swirling eddies at the tips of their wings.

What is more, to help promote mathematical thinking and biomimicry, Andrew McIntosh, professor of thermodynamics and combustion theory, at the University of Leeds has held paper airplane design contests. These contests offer students a hands-on approach to help creativity form in the minds of future engineers.

Something completely different but related: aerospace and aviation

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing!

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin navigated the lunar module they piloted, named the Eagle, down onto the surface of the moon. Within moments of their landing, Armstrong radioed NASA Mission Control in Houston, Texas, his now infamous message, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Soon afterwards, Armstrong made a more profound statement when he became the first person to set foot on the moon, saying, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Three years later, on July 20, 1972, the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio, — the birthplace of Armstrong — opened its doors.

We invite you to return to our 2018 visit to the museum (click here).

Can you imagine a career in mathematics that might even help mimic nature – God’s great creation?

Starting out now on your very own discovery of the intricacies of God’s creation through scientific study might very well help you in discerning what path you should take in the future. Christian scholarship that extends into professional roles — such as mathematicians, engineers, and physicists who work in chaos and non-linear dynamics or aerospace and aviation to biologists and zoologists who study ornithology — is sincerely needed in education and society.