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Eva Kanso Wins NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award

March 29, 2007 — Eva Kanso, assistant professor  in the Viterbi School's Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, has won a highly competitive Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation.
Eva Kanso

The five-year, $400,000 award will support her research in dynamical systems, fluid-structure interactions and aquatic locomotion, which has a range of applications including the design of biologically-inspired robotic vehicles that explore the ocean and hazardous environments.

The award, one of the National Science Foundation’s highest honors for young faculty members, recognizes and supports the early career development activities of “teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.”  Awardees are selected on the basis of “creative career-development plans that effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of the university.”

Kanso’s research program focuses on the development of theoretical and computational infrastructures for modeling complex solid-fluid interactions in fish-like locomotion.

“Fish and cetaceans move in water with great agility and efficiency, through rhythmic shape changes, which generate unsteady flow around the animal's body, typically a vortical flow past the body,” Kanso said.  “It is widely believed, but not fully understood, that fish exploit the unsteadiness in the flow and use it to their advantage, which makes them capable of achieving very impressive hydrodynamic efficiencies.  Our research program will concentrate on the dynamic coupling that is occurring between the animal’s shape changes and its surroundings.”

Kanso will combine the classical theory of fluid dynamics with ideas from geometric mechanics, dynamical systems, control theory and computation to build reduced models of this solid-fluid motion. Her goal is to explain the underlying principles of locomotion or at least make them more transparent.

“We can use these reduced models to analyze the stability of motion in both individual fish and schools of fish that are interacting with the vorticity that is being created in the water,” she said, “and hopefully be able to explain the role of vorticity in aquatic locomotion and fish schooling.” 

Her models will also be used to devise strategies for control and motion planning, more specifically, to investigate optimum shape deformations for a desired locomotion.   

Kanso demonstrates a two-link mechanism and how she models these idealized shapes to study the underlying mechanics of aquatic locomotion.

Kanso, who earned her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, conducted some of her post-doctoral work in the UCB Sensor and Actuator Center, working on modeling and analysis of the dynamics of a micro-machined MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) gyroscope. 

As a post-doctoral researcher at Caltech, she began to work on developing theoretical and computational models of the solid-fluid interactions that occur in aquatic locomotion.  One of her main contributions involved “the idealized model of swimming in potential flow, that is, in the absence of vorticity.” Kanso modeled the fish as a deformable body made of articulated rigid links and showed that it could propel and steer itself solely by changing its shape.