Herring and fibre optics

Ocean waves, fibre optics and biological active fluids. Two researchers from the 3mE Faculty have been awarded an ERC Starting Grant worth 1.5 million euros for research on these topics.

The herring that are to be released in the aquarium at the Rotterdam zoo are sure to become one of the highlights in the park. Together they will form one giant sparkling and dancing ball of scales making divertive movements simultaneously when harassed by one of the sharks foraging in the tank.

Dr. Daniel Tam, an assistant professor at the department of Process & Energy and one of the ERC recipients, will study their behaviour thoroughly using a technique called PIV (Particle Image Velocimetry). This is an optical method of flow visualisation in which the fluid is seeded with tracer particles (the fish in this case) and illuminated. Tam is an expert in biological active fluids. “In these fluids thousands or millions of organisms swim or otherwise propel themselves together and show coherent behaviour,” he said. “Biologically active fluids are crucial to many biological processes such as mechanical signal transduction, embryonic development, and biofilm formation.”

Tam also works with the microorganism Chlamydomonas, a unicellular green algae that has two flagella for locomotion. He recently discovered that when you subject Chlamydomonas to pulses of water flows they react by sweeping their flagella with the same frequency as the water pulses. These microorganisms sense the currents. Tam believes they also sense the currents caused by their congeners and that this allows them to synchronize their movements. “They mechanically communicate through the fluid,” he said.

Dr. Sander Wahls, an assistant professor at the Delft Centre for Systems and Control, also received an ERC grant. His work is about ocean waves and fibre-optic communication (light waves), or better, the maths that describe these waves. For this he focusses on nonlinear Fourier transform (NFT’s).

“Nonlinear Fourier transforms have been studied intensively in mathematics and physics,” Wahls said. “However, they have not yet found widespread use in engineering.” Wahls believes that by devising more efficient algorithms, NFT’s could become a new tool in engineering. Applications are expected to pop up in various areas including fibre-optic communications or analysing water waves.

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