Research

Jellyfish Make Their Own Walls

Particles show the fluid motion around a swimming jellyfish.

When we walk, the ground’s resistance helps propel us. Similarly, flying or swimming near a surface is easier due to ground effect. Most of the time swimmers don’t get that extra help, but a new study shows that jellyfish create their own walls to get that boost.

Of course, these walls aren’t literal, but fluid dynamically speaking, they are equivalent. Over the course of its stroke, the jellyfish creates two vortices, each with opposite rotation. One of these, the stopping vortex, lingers beneath the jellyfish until the next stroke’s starting vortex collides with it. When two vortices of equal strength and opposite rotation meet, the flow between them stagnates — it comes to halt — just as if a wall were there.

In fact, mathematically, this is how scientists represent a wall: as the stagnation line between a real vortex and a virtual one of equal strength and opposite rotation. It just turns out that jellyfish use the same trick to make virtual walls they can push off! (Image and research credit: B. Gemmell et al.; via NYTimes; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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