Department: Comparative Biomedical Sciences
Research Groups: Musculoskeletal Biology
Research Centres: Structure & Motion Laboratory
My research sits at the interface of biology and engineering. I use biomechanics as a tool to investigate evolutionary biology and, specifically, how the physical environment determines the morphology of flying insects. Following the biomimetic principle, I use a comparative approach to examine extant solutions to particular ecological strategies, unravelling design criteria from historical constraint to ultimately inform wing design in modern unmanned air systems.
Much of my research to date has involved using a wind tunnel and high speed video cameras to film free-flying and tethered insects. As the insects fly through smoke trails the patterns shed into the wake can be reconstructed to describe the flow topology (for example the flow can be attached like a regular aircraft, or separated like the type of flows utilised by Concorde and other delta wing aircraft) and unconventional aerodynamic mechanisms to generate extra lift. Using this smoke visualisation technique as well as quantitative methods (time-resolved, stereo and tomographic Particle Image Velocimetry) I have gone some way to unravelling the mysteries of insect flight including the so-called 'bumblebee paradox' - that insect wings are too small to support the weight of the insect if they use conventional aerodynamics alone.
I have worked on animal architecture and the mechanical linkages which allow insects to fly and jump. I have an active interest in the neurobiological mechanisms that insects use to stay aloft, including flow-sensing and load-sensing, and the phenomenon of optic flow and how it can be used to control flight. My research uses several pieces of unique or state-of-the-art equipment including volumetric PIV, paired cameras for high-speed trajectory tracking, and a virtual reality chamber for flies and hawkmoths, which provides a range of optical stimuli for tethered insects in an attempt to determine how steering is affected by cues from the compound eyes.
Ajduk, A., Ilozue, T., Windsor, S, Yu, Y., Seres, K.B., Bomphrey, R.J., Tom, B.D., Swann, K., Thomas, A.L.R., Graham, C., & Zernicka-Goetz, M. (2011) Rhythmic actomyosin-driven contractions induced by sperm entry predict mammalian embryo viability Nature Communications 2
Young, J., Walker, S. M., Bomphrey, R. J., Taylor, G. K. & Thomas, A. L. R. (2009). Details of insect wing design and deformation enhance aerodynamic function and flight efficiency. Science. 325, 1549-1552.
Bomphrey, R. J., Taylor, G. K., Thomas, A. L. R. (2009) Smoke visualization of free-flying bumblebees indicates independent leading-edge vortices on each wing pair. Exp. Fluids 46, 811-821. Published online before print April 2, 2009, doi: 10.1007/s00348-009-0631-8
Taylor, G. K., Bacic, M., Bomphrey, R. J., Carruthers, A. C., Gillies, J., Walker, S. M. & Thomas, A. L. R. (2008). New experimental approaches to the biology of flight control systems. J. Exp. Biol. 211, 258-266. doi: 10.1242/jeb.012625
Bomphrey, R. J., Lawson, N. J., Taylor, G. K., & Thomas, A. L. R. (2006). Application of digital particle image velocimetry to insect aerodynamics: measurement of the leading-edge vortex and near wake of a hawkmoth, Exp. Fluids. 40, 546-554. doi:10.1007/s00348-005-0094-5
Bomphrey, R. J., Lawson, N. J., Taylor, G. K., & Thomas, A. L. R. (2006). Digital particle image velocimetry measurements of the downwash distribution of a desert locust Schistocerca gregaria. J. Roy. Soc. Interface 3, 311-317. doi:10.1098/rsif.2005.0090
Bomphrey, R. J., Harding, N. J., Lawson, N. J., Taylor, G. K., & Thomas, A. L. R. (2005). The aerodynamics of Manduca sexta: digital particle image velocimetry of the leading-edge vortex, J. Exp. Biol., 208, 1079–1094. doi:10.1242/jeb.01471
Thomas, A. L. R., Taylor, G. K., Srygley, R. B., Nudds, R. L. & Bomphrey, R. J. (2004). Dragonfly flight: free-flight and tethered flow visualizations reveal a diverse array of unsteady lift-generating mechanisms, controlled primarily via angle of attack. J. Exp. Biol. 207, 4299-4323. doi:10.1242/jeb.01262