The focus of my research group is to investigate the developmental and evolutionary significance of fluid dynamic forces in biological systems. In particular, we are interested in how biological structures have evolved to increase fluid transport and locomotion efficiency, the way fluid forces constrain biological design, and the influence of fluid scaling effects during animal development. Our previous work has focused on developing mathematical models and experiments to describe the pumping mechanics of embryonic and tubular hearts, fluid transport through biological filtering layers, and the aerodynamics of flight in the smallest insects. The broad goal of our future work is to couple problems in biological fluid dynamics to electromechanical models of organs and organisms whose dynamics rely on environmental cues and neural activation through the action of pacemakers.
To study these problems, we have used a three-pronged approach that consists of measurements of morphology and kinematics in actual animals, the use of physical models to measure forces and flow velocities, and numerical simulations to understand the fluid dynamics of systems that are difficult to approach experimentally. These approaches compliment each other in a variety of ways. Measurements of morphology and kinematics are used to set appropriate parameter values for simulations and physical models. In many cases, physical models can be used to study a large range of parameter values that would be difficult to investigate using computational fluid dynamics. Numerical simulations can be used to obtain detailed descriptions of flow fields and to design biological systems with complicated mechanical properties.