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Phys Rev E Stat Nonlin Soft Matter Phys. 2007 Apr;75(4 Pt 1):041916. Epub 2007 Apr 26.

Floppy swimming: viscous locomotion of actuated elastica.

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Department of Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Actuating periodically an elastic filament in a viscous liquid generally breaks the constraints of Purcell's scallop theorem, resulting in the generation of a net propulsive force. This observation suggests a method to design simple swimming devices-which we call "elastic swimmers"-where the actuation mechanism is embedded in a solid body and the resulting swimmer is free to move. In this paper, we study theoretically the kinematics of elastic swimming. After discussing the basic physical picture of the phenomenon and the expected scaling relationships, we derive analytically the elastic swimming velocities in the limit of small actuation amplitude. The emphasis is on the coupling between the two unknowns of the problems-namely the shape of the elastic filament and the swimming kinematics-which have to be solved simultaneously. We then compute the performance of the resulting swimming device and its dependence on geometry. The optimal actuation frequency and body shapes are derived and a discussion of filament shapes and internal torques is presented. Swimming using multiple elastic filaments is discussed, and simple strategies are presented which result in straight swimming trajectories. Finally, we compare the performance of elastic swimming with that of swimming micro-organisms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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