Research

Schooling in Soap Films

In sports, flocks of birds, and schools of fish, we’re accustomed to thinking that the followers get an aerodynamic or hydrodynamic advantage over the leaders, but this may not always be the case. Here are two flags placed one after another in a soap film flowing from top to bottom. The flags are passive, meaning that their motion is entirely dependent on the flow around them; they cannot exert any resistive force of their own. In this case, scientists observe an effect known as inverted drafting. The lead flag actually experiences less drag – by as much as 50% – than the following flag. This seems to be a result of flow around the second flag having an upstream influence on the motion of the first. (Image and research credit: L. Ristroph and J. Zhang, pdf)

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