Brown bat flight team wins NSF/Science Visualization Award

September 27, 2007

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] -- Bat flight is graceful and erratic, a skittery show in the sky. When Brown University researchers model it, bat flight is also a prize winner.

A team of Brown engineers, biologists and computer scientists has won a first place award in the fifth annual International Science and Technology Visualization Challenge. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the journal Science sponsor the contest, which recognizes visual communication that is scientifically significant, effective, original and arresting.

The NSF and Science received more than 200 contest entries from 23 countries. The Brown team took the top prize in the informational graphics category. Mykhaylo Kostandov, a graduate student in computer science, and David Willis, a former postdoctoral research associate in engineering and now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led work on the contest submission, which is based on experiments and computer simulations aimed at understanding the details of the invisible airflow around the wings of a flying bat.

To construct the images, a team led by Brown engineer Kenny Breuer and evolutionary biologist Sharon Swartz used motion-capture technology to film bats flying in wind tunnels. The result is the first recordings of the fine details of bats' wing and body movement during flight.

The cross-disciplinary team that produced the graphic and worked on the original research includes David Laidlaw, associate professor of computer science; Daniel Riskin, postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; and Jaime Peraire, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.

Their submission will be published in a special section of the Sept. 28, 2007, issue of Science and Science Online. The American Association for the Advancement of Science publishes Science, the largest peer-reviewed general science journal in the world.

The Brown bat crew continues its work to understand the detailed aerodynamics of bat flight. The group recently received a $6.2-million grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and a $580,000 grant from NSF to combine, for the first time, direct measurements of bat flight mechanics and aerodynamics with computer simulations and neurophysiological measurements. In addition to better understanding the origins and mechanics of animal flight, their findings could influence the design of micro air vehicles, a new breed of small aircraft under development by the military.
Winning entries in the International Science and Technology Visualization Challenge are online: or

Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call the Office of Media Relations at (401) 863-2476.

Brown University

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