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NYU Researchers Find Answer to How Fish & Birds Hang Together without Colliding

Fish and birds are able to move in groups, without separating or colliding, due to a newly discovered dynamic: the followers interact with the wake left behind by the leaders. 

The findings, by a team of researchers including NYU Shanghai Professor of Physics and Mathematics Jun Zhang, offer new insights into animal locomotion and point to potential ways to harness energy from natural resources, such as rivers or wind.  

“Air or water flows naturally generated during flight or swimming can prevent collisions and separations, allowing even individuals with different flapping motions to travel together,” explains Joel Newbolt, a doctoral candidate in New York University’s Department of Physics and the lead author of the research, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Notably, this phenomenon allows slower followers to keep up with faster-flapping leaders by surfing on their wake.”

More broadly, the study opens possibilities for better capturing natural resources to generate energy from wind and water.

“While we currently use wind and water to help meet our energy needs, our work offers new ways to more efficiently leverage them as we seek new methods for enhancing sustainable practices,” observes Leif Ristroph, one of the paper’s co-authors and an assistant professor in NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

It’s well known that animals such as fish and birds often travel in groups, but the details of these interactions in schools and flocks are not fully understood.

In order to study the effects of flapping motions and flow interactions on the movement of members in a group, the researchers conducted a series of experiments in the Courant Institute’s Applied Math Lab. Here, they designed a robotic “school” of two hydrofoils, which simulate wings and fins, that flap up and down and swim forward. The flapping motion of each foil was driven by a motor, while the forward swimming motions were free and result from the pressure of the water on the foils as they flap.

The researchers varied the speed of the flapping motions to represent faster and slower swimmers and fliers.

The process may be viewed here. (credit: video courtesy of Joel Newbolt, NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences).

Their results showed that a pair of foils with different flapping motions, which would swim or fly at different speeds when alone, can, in fact, move together without separating or colliding due to the interaction of the follower with the wake left behind by the leader.

Specifically, the follower “surfs” in distinct ways on the wake left by the leader. If trailing behind, the follower experiences a “push” forward by this wake; if moving too fast, however, a follower is “repelled” by the leader’s wake.

“These mechanisms create a few ‘sweet spots’ for a follower when sitting behind a leader,” observes Zhang.

Original article first appeared as an NYU news release: How Do Fish & Birds Hang Together without Colliding? Researchers Find the Answer is a Wake with Purpose

Read additional coverage of the research by PBS/NOVA here.

Former NYU Sydney Student Presents Behavioral Research

Former NYU Sydney student, Julia Moses recently presented at the 30th Annual Greater New York Conference on Behavioral Research at Fordham University.

Julia presented her research on Infant Studies of Language and Neurocognitive Development. The research is a result of working with Dr. Natalie Brito at Infant Studies of Language and Neurocognitive Development” (ISLAND lab). “The presentation was about how maternal anxiety may have an effect on 3 month old infants. I measured the blinks per minute of the baby during a recorded 5 minute play task with the mother and counted the number of blinks over the time period,” explained Julia. 

“Using the number of blinks as a measure of dopamine production in the infant, we can infer that the rate of blinks per minute is telling us about the baby’s internal state. Through surveys the mother took and counting the blinks, preliminary results have shown that mothers who feel less stressed in the moment correlate with higher blinks in the infant due to (inferred) higher dopamine production in the infant’s brain. ”

“This is very early on into our research so nothing is certain yet as we don’t have enough participants, we are hoping to continue with more studies to build on the research”.

In Conversation with NYU Berlin’s First Global Equity Fellow Mahalia Thomas

Mahalia Thomas was the first Global Equity Fellow in Berlin last academic year. The NYU Global Equity Fellowship is a competitive year-long fellowship created by the NYU Office of Global Programs in partnership with the NYU Leadership Initiative and NYU Student Affairs. The purpose of this fellowship is to empower and equip a diverse body of students to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion while studying away. Our hope is that our fellows will broaden their capacity as leaders and change agents at NYU and beyond. During its pilot phase the Global Equity Fellowship was only for students studying at NYU Berlin, NYU Buenos Aires and NYU Sydney. As of Fall 2018, the program has been expanded to all 11 Global Academic Centers.

NYU Berlin has created a similar in a local German high school. Part of the thinking behind this program was to provide Mahalia and future Global Equity Fellows with ‘colleagues’ at a German school enabling them better access to conversations about equity, diversity, inclusion, and identity outside the NYU context. Although Mahalia is now back in New York, we had the opportunity to connect with her about her experience.

Tell me a little bit about your field of study and how you came to NYU.

I am in my fourth year at NYU in a joint degree (B.A.-M.A.) program at CAS/GSAS in New York. Within the field of politics, my studies have shifted and transformed to find the niche that I am excited to explore: Comparative Constitutional Law focusing on its impacts on electoral politics. I began freshman year with the plan to join the International Relations track focusing on Europe, but as I began to get deeper into Africana and Urban Studies, I realized the amount that still needed to be accomplished in the United States in terms of social progress and equity. As such, my Undergraduate political journey was focused on the American Political Practice and Leadership Track that eventually brought me to Washington D.C. as a Global Leadership Scholar in the Spring of 2017. Throughout that semester, I was introduced to Constitutional Law, which – dry it may be at times – I found fascinating. I came to realize that a founding document like a constitution not only delineates the structure and exchange of power, but it also shapes a country’s culture, its aspirations, and can be an incredible catalyst for equity. As of now, I hope my Master’s Thesis to be a comparative study of Germany and the United States and the impact of higher standards in their constitutions (ex. Article I of the GG) on the rise of Alt Right Politics.

NYU first sparked my interest the summer after 10th grade when I went to NYC to study at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. At the time, I was going to the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanity, which was a specialized high school for those who wanted to pursue a career in the arts. NYU had a solid dance department, and I almost applied to Tisch in 2014. However, as I came to terms with the end of my 12-yearlong dance training, my interest in NYU did not diminish. I ended up applying ED1 and was able to accept my position thanks to the financial and community support offered by the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Program.

I understand that you were the first Global Equity Fellow (GEF) in Berlin. How did you become involved in the program and what did the fellowship mean to you?

By the time that I heard about the program, I had already applied and been accepted into the Berlin study away program. I remember receiving the email while I was at my D.C. internship at the Justice Policy Institute (a think tank focused on Criminal Justice Reform). The sender of the email, Krystal McLeod, made me realize the gravity of the position as she was a Truman Scholar and had worked on a number of tangible and important equity efforts at NYU. At that time and still ongoing today, I evaluate NYU’s pro-equity programs as either being cosmetic (i.e. to look good) or tangible (i.e. to make an impact). While reading the description for the program, all I could think was “This is something real!” and I couldn’t believe that I received the position only a few weeks later.

Something that has shaped my entire journey from moving to the United States to going to NYU and eventually getting to be the Global Equity Fellow was thankfulness and a want to give back. I would not have been able to make it as far as I have if it hadn’t been for particular teachers, friends, and mentors and the way that I want to thank all of them is by continuing their mission and supporting those I can. Because of this, the Global Equity Fellowship meant for me the opportunity to give back and pave a path for others. It was an exciting and, sometimes, intimidating experience, but I am incredibly proud of what I’ve accomplished especially in regards to the MLK Jr. Fellows.

What was most meaningful about your time at NYU Berlin?

Other than the work that I was able to do with the Global Equity Fellowship, the most meaningful thing about my time in Berlin was to rediscover Germany and my place in it. I’m originally from Frankfurt but moved to the United States at 7. I’ve been back periodically but never for more than a few weeks. This was my first time being back in over 5 years and as an adult with the knowledge of identity that I had gained over the years. Regardless of being in the US or in Germany, being biracial (African American and German) comes with particular challenges and internal questions, and it took me a long time to settle on identifying myself as a Black German when questioned about my ethnicity. One surprising discovery I made while in Berlin was the heterogeneity of the African Diasporic community. While in the United States (particularly in the South where I lived for 8 years) most Blacks trace their lineage back to slavery, this isn’t quite the case in Germany. From my understanding, Germany has had more stagnant migration patterns of Blacks from Africa, the United States, and surrounding nations such as the UK and France. This lack of a shared history and its impacts is something I hope to continue to explore if I have the chance to return to Berlin. At least, we can all agree that Mohrenstrasse is not an appropriate street name.

Another set of meaningful experience was the work I was able to do at the high school outside of my mentorship role in the MLK Jr. Fellowship. While I was only able to visit two classrooms during my time there, I enjoyed both immensely. The first was with a class of 7th graders where we did an exercise around what names mean and how names shape the way that society can see (and often judge) a person. This was followed by a Q&A where I ended up finding myself explaining the United States’ Separations of Power because they wanted to know if Trump would start a war. The second visit was to their most advanced English class where I held a workshop on inclusive language covering topics from non-binary pronouns, LGBTQ+ terminology, and contextualized salient identities. While exercises such as these are commonplace at NYU, it was completely new to them and it was interesting for them to explore concepts that have become so ingrained in the way I think about Inclusivity. It was also a fascinating learning experience for me as I got to see how identities of nationality and race were differently interpreted and internalized in Germany compared to the United States.

I understand you were involved with the launch for NYU Berlin’s Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship program? Can you describe how the program developed and your role. What was it like working with the local fellows?

Much of the groundwork and relations building to get a program such as the MLK Jr. Fellowship program going was already completed by the time I arrived in Berlin. Nonetheless, hearing the passion and enthusiasm of the potential of this program from Gabriella, Linn, and Frau Dinter, I was excited for the opportunity to be a part of it. I helped with finding the name for the program which we based on my Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars Program, picking who our fellows were going to be, and, most importantly to me, getting to be their mentors for my remaining time in Berlin.

To answer the question of what it was like working with Mahir and Ecenur, I think it can be summarized by the first time we all met. Only a short time after they were selected, I set up a time to get to know them over coffee and I was immediately blown away. A conversation that I had predicted would be 30 to 45 minutes of awkward small talk turned into a 2-hour enriching conversation spanning the welfare system, US Politics, and the role of schools in created inclusive environments. I remember coming back to the dorms and just having to go up to my suitemate and rant about how amazing they were (and still are). It was an absolute blast getting to be their mentor and watching them grow as scholars and change makers.

I am incredibly proud of them and I am beyond thankful for having had the opportunity to be a part of their journey as Martin Luther King Jr. Fellows.

How do you think the fellowship enriches the lives of the fellows as well as the NYU Berlin community? Is it consequential for local communities?

I think that we, as a society, greatly underestimate the experiences and insights of those younger than us. I know this from having both experienced the diminished weight of my opinions in workspaces where I am the youngest as well as my grave error of thinking the fellows would just be “high school kids.” This is something that society as a whole and each person as an individual should work on and one way to do that is by providing the opportunities for “younger folk” (which I use a variable term depending on context) to be seen as equals first and foremost. By doing this, we eliminate the need to have younger folk prove that they deserve to take up space, which, from personal experience, can lead to diminished self-worth. This is how I hope the fellowship has enriched the lives of the fellows. It taught them that they have a right to take up any space they decide to enter and that their opinions are just as valid as anyone’s else’s regardless of age or educational attainment.

When Mahir, Ecenur, and I began the conversation about their fellowship project, it quickly became apparent that the topic would be LGBTQ+ Inclusivity, the longer and harder decision was the scope of the project. We decided that they would act as the conversation starters for their school on this topic using personal stories, statistics, and collective involvement. While I do think that the work that they’ve done is consequential for local communities, I think it is more important that it was impactful for them because one change is a beautiful thing and can have many rippling effects, but one person who has the excitement to make change (as both of them do) is an endless sea of possibilities for future change.

NYU Abu Dhabi Considers the City of the Future

On February 11, the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute hosted an event, Abu Dhabi and the City of the Future. Photographer Andrew Moore presented his images of Abu Dhabi in the context of other cities around the world that he has shot and done projects on. In particular, Moore’s talk focused on how the principles of intelligent urban design apply to these different cities and the lessons learned from both good and bad examples of architecture and city planning.


Love for NYU Shanghai – Applications up 25%

Applications to NYU Shanghai jumped 25 percent this year, bringing the total number of applicants for the 450 spots in Fall 2019’s freshman class to 16,750. Students who listed NYU Shanghai as their first choice among the three campuses of the NYU Global Network (New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai) also rose dramatically – by 43% this year. This is the fourth year in a row that application numbers have grown, indicating the university’s growing popularity among high school seniors worldwide.

The NYU Shanghai Admissions office reports that the applicant pool remains extremely diverse – with students from across six continents and 149 countries applying for admission. Not surprisingly, students from the United States and China represent the majority of applicants.  

“We are seeing more and more international students seeking admission to NYU Shanghai who are eager to engage with China and with an international student body during their college years,” said Annie Lu, Director of Admissions for NYU Shanghai. “This bodes extremely well for the Class of 2023.”

Chinese applicants to NYU Shanghai also remarkably grew by nearly 45 percent to just under 3,000. And, for the first time, the NYU Shanghai applicant pool includes students from all 34 provinces and regions.  

“We are excited to have applicants from all provinces in China, which shows that NYU Shanghai is well-recognized by the Chinese public as a world class institution,” said Zhou Hong, Assistant Dean of Admissions at NYU Shanghai. “The Chinese applicants show excellent academic ability, outstanding English skills, the willingness to try new things, and the courage to challenge themselves and explore the world. We’re looking forward to welcoming the finalists to campus for Candidate Weekend.”

Overall, NYU received a record-shattering 84,481 applications for admission this fall, an increase of 12% from last year. This is the 12th year in a row that applications to NYU have risen, with the total number doubling during the same period.   


This post comes to us from NYU Shanghai; the original can be found here.

NYU Washington, DC Salon Series with Dr. Jennifer Natalya Fink

On February 12, NYU Washington, DC will host a Salon Series conversation with Dr. Jennifer Natalya Fink, author of the Catherine Doctorow Prize-winning novel, Bhopal Dance.

On the night of December 2, in the midst of the Reaganomic era, an explosion at an American-owned factory in Bhopal, India, released untold amounts of toxic gas on uncounted numbers of people, creating a human and environmental disaster of insurmountable proportions. Known as the Bhopal disaster, it once dominated international headlines, and is now barely remembered.

Yet Bhopal remains emblematic of all the many quickly forgotten disasters that followed, and of the permanent state of globalized disaster in which people now dwell. What does it mean when corporations instead of states control not only the means to create environmental disasters, but also the tools to bury them? How does one revolt against these unelected entities? How do the most private desires get shaped by this stateless horror? Jennifer Natalya Fink’s Bhopal Dance is an epic and epochal tale of such a horror and its buried consequences.

NYU DC faculty member, Victoria Kiechel, will serve as interlocutor for this evening of discussion.

Inside Italian Politics at NYU Florence

A crucial general election was held in Italy less than one year ago. The outcome of the election was a hung parliament, with no party or coalition of parties winning the majority of seats on its own. The most remarkable result was the unprecedented success of the two populist parties, the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the League, at the expense of the two mainstream parties, the Democratic Party and Forza Italia. After three months of complex negotiations, an M5S-League government was formed. While the new dividing line in Europe that sets eurosceptic, anti-immigrant and anti-globalization parties against europhile, pro-multiculturalism, and pro-globalization parties seems to be gaining momentum, so far Italy is the only country in Western Europe where the populists stand in office unopposed. This may have consequences for the future of the Italian political and party systems as well as for the relationship between Italy and the EU. 

On February 4, NYU Florence will host an event, Inside Italian Politics, featuring Roberto D´Alimonte, LUISS Guido Carli Rome and NYU Florence, and Alessandro Chiaramonte, University of Florence and NYU Florence.

Check out student coverage of the Italian Elections of March 4, 2018 on LPD´s Italian Politics Brief (run by NYU Florence students).