Qian Xue, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development Award (CAREER) for her research on the Hydrodynamic Whisker Sensing Model of seal.

The NSF CAREER Awards are one of the organization’s most prestigious awards for supporting early-career teachers and include a federal grant for research and educational activities for five consecutive years.

Xue studies the detection ability of seal whiskers, which are attracting growing research interest due to their exceptional sensitivity and accuracy. Previous studies have shown that blindfolded seals can use their whiskers to track disturbances left by moving objects in the water, called hydrodynamic drag, that were generated minutes before, as well as to discriminate between size and shape. forms upstream objects through their wakes. .

However, relatively little is known about the detection mechanisms of seal whiskers. Xue’s research examines how the unique geometry of seal whiskers responds to different vibrations in water, including self-induced vibrations in still water and vibrations induced by the wake of other objects at single whisker levels. and rows of mustaches.

Xue will use a tool known as a fluid-structure interaction computer model based on the immersed boundary method to simulate single-whisker and multi-whisker vibrations in a wide range of settings. Simulation results will be validated by comparing them to previously obtained experimental measurements to better understand how whiskers respond to fluid vibrations.

“The insights gained will be transformative in inspiring innovative passive hydrodynamic sensing mechanisms associated with the geometry of seal whiskers. These sensors can be particularly useful for marine robotics to support orientation, navigation, detection and tracking tools. The Immersed Boundary Method is an advanced numerical method specially designed to simulate complex geometries and moving and deformable boundaries, which is ideal for simulating flow-induced vibrations of complex whisker geometries,” says Xue.

The research aims to inspire sensing mechanisms based on seal whiskers and contribute to the fundamental understanding of the flow-induced vibrational properties of bluffing and thin bodies like whiskers, which may have applications in all areas of engineering.

The research will also be part of an engineering education plan for undergraduate and graduate engineering students, as well as students in grades 3-12 and the general public.

“An exciting aspect of this research is that it provides an excellent opportunity to develop activities that support engineering education at different levels of education, in the classroom and in the laboratory. I plan to create hands-on activities related to seal whisker detection to inspire students in grades 3-12 to engage in STEM education, and also to develop multidisciplinary educational and research projects for students in undergraduate and graduate students interested in bio-inspired engineering,” says Xue.

Xue’s $500,000 award will begin March 1, 2022 and is expected to run through February 2027. The project is jointly funded by the Fluids Dynamics Program and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

This year, UMaine’s Babak Hejrati, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, also received a 2022 NSF CAREER award for his work using robots to facilitate mobility.

“This award is an important step for me to establish and advance leadership in the field of bio-inspired engineering, especially for flow-related issues. It is also very exciting to see multiple NSF CAREER awards in engineering mechanics this year, which will allow us to establish strong multidisciplinary research programs in the department,” says Xue.

Contact: Sam Schipani, [email protected]