Third-year engineering student Ventress Williams is studying the efficiency of dragonfly flight as part of Associate Professor Haibo Dong’s Flow Simulation Research Group. When he talks about strain energy that develops in a dragonfly wing during flight, he does so with authority and enthusiasm, thanks to the guidance and support that Dong has provided.
Schools throughout the University are hiring talented researchers and educators, like mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Haibo Dong, who joined the faculty of the School of Engineering and Applied Science in August 2012.
Dong embraces the idea of undergraduate research. From his perspective, participating in research is the ideal complement to the classroom, giving students the opportunity to truly appreciate the utility of the principles they study. “The principles they study come alive for them in the lab,” he said.
He is careful, however, to immerse undergraduates in research gradually. Dong begins by sending them to the University’s Dell Pond to capture dragonflies, reasoning that there is no better way to acquaint them with the insect’s amazing agility and control. As students become more knowledgeable about the research, Dong guides them in selecting a research topic that matches their skills.
One factor that contributes to the dragonfly’s efficiency is that its wings deform as they move, in effect storing strain energy. This energy is released at critical moments when the wing snaps back into alignment. Williams is studying how this process works.
Although Williams is not sure whether he will go on to graduate school, he has discovered he enjoys research. “If Professor Dong will have me,” he said, “I’m definitely on-board for being in the lab for the rest of my time at U.Va.”