When mammals breathe, air flows back and forth inside our lungs. But in birds that inhale and exhale get transformed into one-directional flow inside their lungs. To figure out how, researchers built loopy networks of pipes that turn oscillating flow into unidirectional flow.
The simplest structure that does this is shown above. The main loop is driven by a pump that oscillates back and forth. A second loop connects through two T-junctions, oriented at 90-degrees to one another. Watch the particles in each loop carefully. Those in the bottom loop move back and forth, driven by the oscillating pump. But the particles in the upper loop only move in one direction! The key to this, the researchers found, are vortices that form at the T-junctions (last image). When the flow in the main loop changes direction, it creates vortices that block flow along one arm of the T-junction, thereby isolating the upper loop. (Image credit: bird – A. Mckie, others – Q. Nguyen et al.; research credit: Q. Nguyen et al.; via APS Physics; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)