Department: Comparative Biomedical Sciences

Campus: Hawkshead

Research Groups: Musculoskeletal Biology, CPCS (Research Programme)

Research Centres: Structure & Motion Laboratory

Richard is a Professor of Comparative Biomechanics in the Structure and Motion Laboratory.  He has also been appointed as Interim Vice Principal for Research (April 2021).

Research. Evolutionary biology; functional morphology; animal flight; unsteady aerodynamics; flight performance; sensing; stability and control; fluid-structure interaction. Haemodynamics of abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Teaching. Comparative Animal Locomotion (module leader); The Moving Animal.

Richard joined the RVC in 2013. He read biological sciences at the University of Exeter followed by a DPhil (PhD) in biomechanics at the University of Oxford. After postdoctoral positions in Oxford and the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath, he was awarded an EPSRC Fellowship in Oxford's Department of Zoology, during which he moved his group to the RVC.

Present and past members of Richard's team include: Nathan PhillipsJorn Cheney; Hannah Safi; Florence Albert-Davie; Maddie Inglis; Toshiyuki Nakata; Fergus McCorkell; Per Henningsson; Tobias Horstmann; Emily Mistick.

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 and control systems of flying animals. 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 and flight control in modern unmanned air systems.

Much of my research to date has involved using wind tunnels and high-speed video cameras to film insects and birds. 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; PIV) 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. I also have an interest in internal flows and the haemodynamics of abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Below: Lily the Barn Owl revealing her wake as she glides through a field of bubbles. (Lily comes courtesy of Lloyd and Rose Buck)

Lily the Barn Owl revealing her wake as she glides through a field of bubbles

T Nakata, N Phillips, P Simões, IJ Russell, JA Cheney, SM Walker, RJ Bomphrey (2020) Aerodynamic imaging by mosquitoes inspires a surface detector for autonomous flying vehicles. Science 368 (6491), 634-637

JR Usherwood, JA Cheney, J Song, SP Windsor, JPJ Stevenson, U Dierksheide, A Nila, RJ Bomphrey (2020) High aerodynamic lift from the tail reduces drag in gliding raptors. Journal of Experimental Biology 223 (3)

T Nakata, P Henningsson, HT Lin, RJ Bomphrey (2020) Recent progress on the flight of dragonflies and damselflies. International Journal of Odonatology 23 (1), 41-49

RJ Bomphrey and R Godoy-Diana (2018) Insect and insect-inspired aerodynamics: unsteadiness, structural mechanics and flight control
Current Opinion in Insect Science 30, 26-32

RJ Bomphrey, T Nakata, N Phillips, SM Walker (2017) Smart wing rotation and trailing-edge vortices enable high frequency mosquito flight. Nature 544 (7648) 92-95 5

H Safi, N Phillips, Y Ventikos, R Bomphrey (2017) Implementing fluid-structure interaction computational and empirical techniques to assess hemodynamics of abdominal aortic aneurysms. Artery Research 20, 55-56 

P Stevens, et al. (2017) Experiments and Computations on the Lift of Accelerating Flat Plates at Incidence. AIAA Journal, 1-11

N Phillips, K Knowles, RJ Bomphrey (2017) Petiolate wings: effects on the leading-edge vortex in flapping flight. Interface focus 7 (1), 20160084 4

Bomphrey, R.J., et al. (2016). Flight of the dragonflies and damselflies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences. 371

Hofhuis, H., Moulton, D., Lessinnes, T., Routier-Kierzkowska, A-L., Bomphrey, R.J., et al. (2016). Morphomechanical Innovation Drives Explosive Seed Dispersal. Cell. 166, 222-233.

Ray, R.P., Nakata, T., Henningsson, P. & Bomphrey, R.J. (2016) Enhanced flight performance by genetic manipulation of wing shape in DrosophilaNature Communications.

Nila, A., et al., Optical measurements of fluid-structure interactions for the description of nature-inspired wing dynamics, in 2016 RAeS Applied Aerodynamics Conference. (2016), Royal Aeronautical Society: Bristol, UK.

Stevens, R.J., Babinsky, H., Manar, F., Mancini, P., Jones, A.R., Granlund, K.O., Ol, M.V., Nakata, T., Phillips, N., Bomphrey, R.J., et al. (2016) Low Reynolds Number Acceleration of Flat Plate Wings at High Incidence (Invited). In 54th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Jones, A., Manar, F., Phillips, N., Nakata, T., Bomphrey, R.J., Ringuette, M.J., Percin, M., van Oudheusden, B.W. & Palmer, J. (2016) Leading Edge Vortex Evolution and Lift Production on Rotating Wings (Invited). In 54th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Phillips, N., Knowles, K. & Bomphrey, R.J. (2015) The effect of aspect ratio on the leading-edge vortex over an insect-like flapping wing. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics 10, 056020.

Nakata, T., Liu, H. & Bomphrey, R.J. (2015) A CFD-informed quasi-steady model of flapping-wing aerodynamics. J. Fluid Mech. 783, 323-343. (doi:10.1017/jfm.2015.537).

Henningsson, P., Michaelis, D., Nakata, T., Schanz, D., Geisler, R., Schröder, A. & Bomphrey, R.J. (2015) The complex aerodynamic footprint of desert locusts revealed by large-volume tomographic particle image velocimetry. Journal of The Royal Society Interface 12.

Windsor, S.P., Bomphrey, R.J. & Taylor, G.K. (2014) Vision-based flight control in the hawkmoth Hyles lineataJournal of The Royal Society Interface 11. (doi:10.1098/rsif.2013.0921).

Henningsson, P., Hedenström, A., & Bomphrey, R. J. (2014). Efficiency of Lift Production in Flapping and Gliding Flight of Swifts. PLoS ONE, 9(2), e90170. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090170

Boyde, A., McCorkell, F. A., Taylor, G. K., Bomphrey, R. J., & Doube, M. (2014). Iodine vapor staining for atomic number contrast in backscattered electron and X-ray imaging. Microscopy Research and Technique, 77(12), 1044-1051. doi: 10.1002/jemt.22435

Horstmann, J. T., Henningsson, P., Thomas, A. L. R., & Bomphrey, R. J. (2014). Wake development behind paired wings with tip and root trailing vortices: consequences for animal flight force estimates. PLoS ONE, 9(3), e91040. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091040

Tucker, R. P., Henningsson, P., Franklin, S. L., Chen, D., Ventikos, Y., Bomphrey, R. J., & Thompson, M. S. (2014). See-saw rocking: an in vitro model for mechanotransduction research. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 11(97). doi: 10.1098/rsif.2014.0330

selected pre-2014

Henningsson, P., & Bomphrey, R. J. (2013). Span efficiency in hawkmoths. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 10(84), 20130099. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2013.0099

Bomphrey, R. J., Henningsson, P., Michaelis, D., & Hollis, D. (2012). Tomographic particle image velocimetry of desert locust wakes: instantaneous volumes combine to reveal hidden vortex elements and rapid wake deformation. Journal of The Royal Society Interface. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2012.0418

Henningsson, P. & Bomphrey, R.J. (2011) Time-varying span efficiency through the wingbeat of desert locusts J. Roy, Soc. Interface

Bomphrey, R.J. (2011) Advances in animal flight through flow measurement Evolutionary Biology DOI: 10.1007/s11692-011-9134-7

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

I lead the Comparative Animal Locomotion third-year BSc module, contributing to The Moving Animal module for first year undergraduates, supervising research projects and mentoring graduate students.

Science festivals including the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, Cheltenham Science Festival, the Oxford Science Festival, the BBSRC Great British Bioscience Festival and the Gravity Fields Festival in celebration of Isaac Newton. Talks, lectures and seminars including to schools, UCL's bio-inspired robotics summer school, the Institute of Physics and the Royal Aeronautical Society. Wellcome Trust New Scientist popular science writing prize. TV documentary profiles and consultancy including the BBC (Life in the Air, Wonders of Life, Animal Camera, Invisible Worlds), SKY (Conquest of the Skies 3D, MicroMonsters 3D), Discovery Channel (Daily Planet). Daily Telegraph STEM hero of the month for highlighting and promoting career paths in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.

  • Bird wings act as a suspension system that rejects gusts

    Scientists from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the University of Bristol have discovered how birds are able to fly in gusty conditions – findings that could inform the development of bio-inspired small-scale aircraft.

    We thought there might be something birds can teach us about coping with turbulence, so we invited Lily the barn owl, Sasha the tawny eagle, Ellie the goshawk and some of their friends to fly through gusts we made in our laboratory.

  • High aerodynamic lift from the tail reduces drag in gliding raptors

    Scientists from the RVC and the University of Bristol have discovered how birds are able to fly in gusty conditions – findings that could inform the development of bio-inspired small-scale aircraft.

    Birds and planes must obey the very same laws of physics, and a wing is a pretty good way to create the aerodynamic force known as Lift which balances the Weight of the animal, or aeroplane, due to the relentless pull of gravity. However, there are several notable differences between the two fliers. Flapping is a way to reorient the wings and the aerodynamic force they produce to propel animals forwards in order to balance drag.

  • How Mosquitos Avoid Obstacles in the Dark

    Nocturnal mosquitoes navigate in the dark without crashing into surfaces. When they land on humans or other animals to feed, they do it very gently in order to remain stealthy – being noticed could spell disaster. Since these nocturnal mosquitoes cannot see what they are doing with their eyes, they use a different sensory mode – mechanosensing.

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