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Any visitors to the University’s South Campus swimming pool a few weeks ago would have come upon a somewhat curious sight: WCU biologist Frank Fish donned in a wetsuit and scuba gear underwater photographing a small manta ray.
In fact, as part of an interdisciplinary science and engineering research team that includes the University of Virginia and Princeton University, Fish was testing a robotic ray designed to simulate the hydrodynamics and material properties of the manta ray. “We are trying to emulate the performance capabilities of these unique creatures so that we can build something like it that one day we may find useful,” explains Fish.
The researchers anticipate that the development of a robotic ray could be of value to the military, oceanographers, marine biologists and environmentalists.
Using high speed video cameras, Fish and his colleagues have travelled well beyond their campus labs to observe manta rays, which are rarely found in captivity. Manta rays, the largest of the species, can measure up to 26 feet in width and weigh 6,000 lbs..
Fish and others have gone on scuba diving expeditions to exotic places like the island of Yap, part of Micronesia in the Western Pacific Ocean. Yap is known for its giant manta rays and a favorite destination for divers from all over the world.
Assisting Fish and the other researchers at WCU's pool were WCU graduate student Molly Gabler, undergraduate Griffin Lewis and Janet Fontanella'12