APRIL 12: No, they’re not jet engines, loudspeakers, or the ear trumpets of the gods. They’re wind tunnels, in use here by students in
McCormick Professor of Natural Sciences Joel Elliott’s class “Evolution and Diversity of Life.” The students are measuring the lift and
drag of bird wings that are in the Slater Museum collection. The wind tunnels were built by Bob Peaslee, the college’s science support
engineer, and how he did it is really cool. Bob conducted extensive research on wind tunnels, learning the physics of how they work,
and then collaborated with faculty to come up with a design that would be most suitable for testing the lift and drag characteristics of
wings. The resulting product allows students to explore questions about bird flight that they were unable to investigate with the wood-
and-cardboard wind tunnels that previously were used in this lab. Professor Elliott told us: “Bob’s use of fiberglass and Plexiglas creates
perfectly laminar air flow at wind speeds appropriate for bird flight. And he eliminated the cost of buying new, specialized equipment by
designing and manufacturing hardware that uses existing scientific devices (force transducers, balances) to measure lift and drag.”