We are interested in the mechanics, energetics and control of how fish swim in natural flow conditions. Fishes routinely encounter unsteady flows in nature, such as when schooling or swimming behind a rock in a stream. Our approach is to expose fish to unsteady flows found in the characterized wakes of simple objects such as cylinders. By systematically altering vortex size, spacing, and shedding frequency, we have found that fish can actually extract energy from their environment and save energy by swimming in turbulent flows. Our current work looks to understand the role of body shape, flexibility and kinematics in exploiting flows under more complex hydrodynamic habitats.
Animals must accurately sense their environment in order to translate them into appropriate motor behaviors. In fishes, hair cells of the lateral line system enable the ability to sense water flow during important behaviors such as catching food or escaping from predators. Our lab takes advantage of optical, genetic and electrophysiological techniques available in zebrafish to examine the organization and physiology of neurons involved in flow sensing and locomotion. Advances in zebrafish genetics allow us to use powerful techniques to monitor the connectivity and function of neurons in an intact, behaving animal.