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ERC Starting Grant for Ajay Kottapalli

09 March 2022
Ajay Kottapalli
Ajay Kottapalli

Researcher Ajay Kottapalli (Engineering and technology institute Groningen, Faculty of Science and Engineering) has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant for his proposal Investigation of biological seal whiskers to create artificial whisker sensors for underwater robots (SEALSENSE). The ERC awards these personal grants of EUR 1.5 million to excellent researchers in order to stimulate groundbreaking research in Europe. Earlier this year, five researchers had already been awarded a Starting Grant.

Summary of the funded proposal by Ajay Kottapalli:

Marine animals employ diverse and fascinating flow sensing phenomena by exploiting the ambient complex fluid mechanics to track prey and escape from predators. While dolphins and toothed-whales use echolocation, and fishes use their lateral-lines to attain ambiental awareness, seals rely on their whiskers to follow hydrodynamic fish trails and thereby are able to track fishes as far as 180m away.  Harbor seal whiskers feature a unique undulatory geometry along their length, which are proven to effectively reduce vortex-induced vibrations, thereby improving the signal-to-noise ratio of the mechanosensory whisker arrays. Through a multi-disciplinary approach combining micro/nanoelectromechanical systems (MEMS/NEMS) sensor development, live animal recordings, and experimental fluid mechanics, this project aims to explain the fundamental sensing phenomena that renders the seal whiskers an ultrahigh sensitivity towards tracking fish trails.

In particular, how the seal effectively utilizes the spatial distribution of the whisker array on its muzzle to conduct multipoint flow measurements to track and locate its prey is unknown and of great significance. We propose to study the morphological, mechanical, and material properties of whiskers to explain the exquisite sensing capabilities of seals, and further use this understanding to develop biomimetic flow sensors for underwater robot navigation. Miniaturized and self-powered, micro/nano electromechanical systems (MEMS/NEMS) strain and flow sensors will be developed for experimental animal studies, and to develop artificial 3D printed MEMS whisker sensors and muzzles for experimental fluid-structure interaction studies. An artificial seal muzzle with mechanosensory MEMS whiskers will be applied on underwater robots to create artificial vision and energy-efficient maneuvering through fish-like schooling.

The ERC starting grant will allow an opportunity to address these scientific questions through creating the opportunity to build a team of 2 PhD students and 1 Postdoc.

About the ERC Starting Grants

The European Research Council (ERC) awards grants to excellent researchers, thus stimulating groundbreaking research in Europe. ERC Starting Grants support talented young researchers in setting up a research team and starting an independent research project.

Last modified:14 March 2022 08.52 a.m.
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