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Engineers recreate ‘fishy’ locomotion

How can fish hover in the water, slowly swimming in place, but turn on a dime and dart away from predator? Aerospace engineer Michael Philen and his team at Virginia Tech are studying how a fish’s muscles, nerves and the shape and flexibility of their tails contribute to their fishy locomotion.

“Fish basically have a two-gear system. They have these red muscle fibers that allow them to swim efficiently slow, and then they need to get away fast or an escape maneuver they can use their white muscles,” Philen said.

Philen and his colleagues hope to make smart materials that can adapt to underwater conditions, so submarines and other submersible vehicles can move more efficiently. NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien takes a look at their lab for the National Science Foundation series Science Nation.*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is an underwriter of the NewsHour.

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