Dr Richard Bomphrey, BSc DPhil
EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow
My field is 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 of flying insects. 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 in modern unmanned air systems.
Much of my research to date has involved using a wind tunnel and high speed video cameras to film free-flying and tethered insects. 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 determine whether they are using any unconventional aerodynamic mechanisms to generate extra lift. Using this smoke visualisation technique, and quantitative methods (Particle Image Velocimetry) I have gone some way to unravelling some of 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.
A biologist by training, I have since become familiar with low-Re aerodynamics and the motion of the air as it deflects and rolls up when passing over flapping wings. 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 which insects use to stay aloft, including the phenomenon of optic flow and how it can be used to control flight, flow-sensing and load-sensing. My research uses several pieces of unique or state-of-the-art equipment including high-speed stereo-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.
My research team is supported by EPSRC, BBSRC, and Dstl.
Current members: Dr Per Henningsson, Dr Toshiyuki Nakata
Visiting members: Dr Jennifer Palmer
Past members: Tobias Horstmann, Zak Mitchell
University of Exeter, School of Biological Sciences
University of Bath, Department of Mechanical Engineering - Centre for Biomimetic and Natural Technologies
tel. +44 (0)1865 271224, email: richard.bomphrey[at]zoo.ox.ac.uk
click here for movie of bees in the laboratory
click here for smoke flow visualization of bumblebees
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