Scientists at the University of Maryland and Tulane University have developed a computational model of a swimming fish that is the first to address the interaction of both internal and external forces on locomotion. The interdisciplinary research team simulated how the fish's flexible body bends, depending on both the forces from the fluid moving around it as well as the muscles inside. Understanding these interactions, even in fish, will help design medical prosthetics for humans that work with the body's natural mechanics, rather than against them. This research is published in the October 18, 2010 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"When a fish moves in a fluid, muscles contract, but the fluid also moves against the body. So, the amount the body moves depends on the internal muscle force and the external reaction of fluids," explained Eric D. Tytell, who conducted this research as a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Professor Avis Cohen, Department of Biology. "Previous studies examined body mechanics separately from fluid mechanics because it is a very hard problem to solve. This is the first time that anyone has put together a computational framework to simulate this for large, fast animals like fishes."
Understanding the general principles of animal movement could help to design and inspire engineered systems, including robots and medical prosthetics. This simulation was developed for the lamprey, a primitive vertebrate whose nervous system is being used as a model by Cohen and colleagues to develop prosthetic devices for people with spinal cord injuries.
"The devices may one day help people regain control over their legs and walk again," Cohen said. "We understand to first order the neural circuit that controls the muscles for swimming or walking. Now, for neuroprosthetics, we need to understand how the muscles interact with the body and the environment o
|Contact: Kelly Blake|
University of Maryland