Coherent locomotion as an attracting state for a free flapping body

Silas Alben, Michael Shelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A recent experiment [Vandenberghe, N., Zhang, J. & Childress, S. (2004) J. Fluid Mech. 506, 147-155] has shown that an axle-mounted blade can spontaneously rotate when oscillated (or "flapped") above a critical frequency in a fluid. To understand the nature of flapping locomotion we study numerically the dynamics of a simple body, flapped up and down within a viscous fluid and free to move horizontally. We show here that, at sufficiently large "frequency Reynolds number," unidirectional locomotion emerges as an attracting state for an initially nonlocomoting body. Locomotion is generated in two stages: first, the fluid field loses symmetry by an instability similar to the classical von Karman instability; and second, precipitous interactions with previously shed vortical structures "push" the body into locomotion. Body mass and slenderness play central and unexpected roles in each stage. Conceptually, this work demonstrates how locomotion can be transduced from the simple oscillations of a body through an interaction with its fluid environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11163-11166
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number32
StatePublished - Aug 9 2005


  • Bifurcation
  • Flight
  • Fluid-structure interaction
  • Instability
  • Symmetry-breaking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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