Soap Film Experiment makes it into Nature Comm.
Passive appendages generate drift through symmetry breaking
Lācis, Brosse, Ingremeau, Mazzino, Lundell, Kellay & Bagheri
Nature Comm. vol. 5, pp. 5310, 2014 [ link ]
Plants and animals use plumes, barbs, tails, feathers, hairs and fins to aid locomotion. Many of these appendages are not actively controlled, instead they have to interact passively with the surrounding fluid to generate motion. We use theory, experiments, and numerical simulations to show that an object with a protrusion in a separated flow drifts sideways by exploiting a symmetry-breaking instability similar to the instability of an inverted pendulum. Our model explains why the straight position of an appendage in a fluid flow is unstable and how it stabilizes either to the left or right of the incoming flow direction. It is plausible that organisms with appendages in a separated flow use this newly discovered mechanism for locomotion; examples include the drift of plumed seeds without wind and the passive reorientation of motile animals.