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Departmental Colloquium

Some secrets of swimming in sand  
Guest Speaker
Prof. Daniel I. Goldman  
Guest Affiliation
Georgia Institute of Technology School of Physics  
Chad Fertig  
Thursday, March 22, 2012 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm  
Physics 202  

I will summarize our recent progress in biophysical experiments and modeling of the locomotion of a sand-swimming lizard, the sandfish. We use high speed x-ray imaging to study how the 10 cm-long sandfish swims at 2 body-lengths/sec within sand, a granular material that displays solid and fluid-like behavior. Below the surface the lizard no longer uses limbs for propulsion but generates thrust to overcome drag by propagating an undulatory traveling wave down the body. To predict sandfish swimming speed in the granular ``frictional fluid", we develop an empirical resistive force model by measuring drag force on a small cylinder oriented at different angles relative to the displacement direction and summing these forces over the animal movement profile. The model correctly predicts the animal's wave efficiency (ratio of forward speed to wave speed) as approximately 0.5. The empirical model agrees with a more detailed numerical simulation: a multi-segment model of the sandfish coupled to a multi-particle simulation of the granular medium. We use the principles discovered to construct a sand-swimming physical model (a robot) which, like in our empirical and simulation models, swims fastest using the preferred sandfish wave pattern.