I’m a fluid dynamicist, which means I study how fluids (liquids and gases) move. I love math, but also photography and filmmaking. To me, fluid dynamics is the perfect compromise. A big part of my job is to take photos and videos of fluids flowing in strange ways and figuring out the math going on behind the scenes.
I got hooked on fluid dynamics as a graduate student studying how fish swim. To swim effectively, fish use clever ways to move water around their bodies. When I became a postdoc, I switched to studying birds, who use equally clever ways to move around air. As an engineer, I’m mostly interested in how fishes and birds could inspire new swimming and flying robots. Small autonomous robots – whether they swim or fly – are becoming more and more important for search and rescue missions, product delivery, mapping, and surveillance, so we need to make them as maneuverable and efficient as possible.
Today, I’m applying fluid dynamics to my new research group at UVA. I joined the UVA faculty in 2016 as one of the early members of the Link Lab. The “Lab” is really a group of labs studying Cyber-Physical Systems, which are systems that interact with both cyberspace and physical space. The Link Lab has three main research areas: autonomous robots (e.g. quadcopters), body sensors (e.g. fitness trackers), and smart home technology (e.g. adaptive thermostats). My group is currently studying how robots can swim/fly more stably when traveling in swarms, near solid boundaries, in crossflows, and in heavy turbulence. We also study ways that body sensors could harness energy from fluids in order to power themselves. For more details about my research, check out my lab’s website.