'Southampton dolphin' research featured by Royal Society

Professor Tim Leighton and dolphin from the Royal Society website

Photo: GJ Heald

A study by Professor Tim Leighton of the University's Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR) has been featured on the Royal Society website.

The paper describes work on the fundamental physics of how sound propagates through bubbly liquids. A report on his findings and a movie showing how the researchers battled the waves to gather the data have been featured on the homepage of the Proceedings of the Royal Society (Mathematics, Physics and Engineering Sciences).

After outlining new mathematical underwater acoustics, Professor Leighton's work explains how to improve the operation of human sonar equipment, (in bubbly waters), such as naval systems. Dolphins appear to not have problems using their own sonar to navigate, and even undertake expeditions using 'bubble nets' to catch fish. This is despite the fact that the acoustical properties of their anatomical sonar 'hardware' are mediocre compared to the best naval systems. The research speculates that human sonar could be improved by analysing how dolphins intrepret their sonar. Professor Leighton also illustrates direct applications in significantly enhancing biomedical ultrasound scans.

Professor Leighton added: 'My team and I are very honoured to have the research publicised so prominently by the Royal Society. I am very grateful to my student, Steve Meers, for braving the cold waters, and to Dr Paul White and Professor Chris Morfey of ISVR for outstanding advice. ISVR technicians did a great job building the rigs we took to sea, and John Taylor and Tony Edgeley even camped out with us on the beach, watching over the equipment, on nights when the windspeeds exceeded 50mph. On one night, alone the storms did 20,000 worth of damage to the rig, which was fortunately insured. Measurements of this kind have never been taken before, even under calm conditions, and it was a real team effort to get the data in such a storm.'

It is thought to be the first time a movie has been used on a Royal Society website (www.pubs.royalsoc.ac.uk/proc_phys_homepage.shtml) The material will also be published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (A), with co-authors Steve Meers and Paul White.

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