Research

My research interests are the flow inside animal bodies including urination, defecation and digestion.  These fluids are widely examined from the perspective of physiology.   However, the flow properties and the impacts on the function of organs are not well-understood.   I apply the knowledge of fluid mechanics, especially internal flow, to investigate the function of organs.

Intestine is a blender

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, digestive disease affects 60 to 70 million people and costs over 140 billion annually. Despite the significance of the gastrointestinal tract to human health, the physics of digestion remains poorly understood.  In this study, we ask a simple question: what sets the frequency of intestinal contractions?  We measure the frequency of intestinal contractions in rats, as a function of distance down the intestine.  We find that intestines contract radially ten times faster than longitudinally.  This motion promotes mixing and, in turn, absorption of food products by the intestinal wall.  We calculate viscous dissipation in the intestinal fluid to rationalize the relationship between frequency of intestinal contraction and the viscosity of the intestinal contents.  Our findings may help to understand the evolution of the intestine as an ideal mixer.

The beautiful x-ray photo by Arie van ‘t Riet: Street rat in the garden.

rat_xray

Hydrodynamics of Defecation

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, digestive disease affects 60 to 70 million people and costs over 140 billion annually. Despite the significance of the gastrointestinal tract to human health, the physics of both digestion and defecation remain poorly understood. In this combined experimental and theoretical study, we investigate the defecation of mammals, from mice to elephants. We film defecation events at Zoo Atlanta and apply plate-on-plate rheometry to measure the viscosity of mammalian feces. Among animals heavier than 3 kg, we find herbivores defecate for only 10 seconds (N = 13), while carnivores do so for 19 seconds (N = 8). We rationalize this surprising trend on the basis of the higher viscosity of carnivore feces. We compare defecation times to theoretical predictions based on a Poiseuille flow model of the rectum and parallel experiments with a synthetic defecator that extrudes pizza dough upon applied pressure. Our findings may help to diagnose digestive problems in animals.

The touching illustrated book by Alessandro Sanna: The river

elephant

Flying fish accelerate at 5G to leap from the water surface

Flying fish can both swim underwater and glide in air. Transitioning from swimming to gliding requires penetration of the air-water interface, or breaking the “surface tension barrier,” a formidable task for juvenile flying fish measuring 1 to 5 cm in length. In this experimental investigation, we use high-speed videography to characterize the kinematics of juvenile flying fish as they leap from the water surface. During this process, which lasts 0.05 seconds, flying fish achieve body accelerations of 5 times earth’s gravity and gliding speeds of 1.3 m/s, an order of magnitude higher than their steady swimming speed. We rationalize this anomalously high speed on the basis of the hydrodynamic and surface tension forces and torques experienced by the fish. Specifically, leaping fish experience skin friction forces only on the submerged part of their body, permitting them to achieve much higher speeds than in steady underwater swimming. We also perform experiments using a towed flying fish mimc to determine optimality of various parameters in this process, including body angle and start position with respect to the water surface.

Butterflies draft to oscillating flow