CARA News – Duke Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies

Duke’s Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies has completed another outstanding year of endeavor!

One of Leonardo Da Vinci’s flying machine models: a human powered glider capable of flapping.

Highlight – “The Stymphalian Project.” One of our undergraduate students, a double major in Mechanical Engineering and Medieval & Renaissance Studies, pursued honors work that stemmed from a senior ME project that was originally conceived as a MEDREN topic—on Da Vinci’s concepts and notes for a human flying machine. The student’s ME senior project team designed and constructed an “ornithopter,” a glider drone based on aerodynamic properties that would allow it to glide and then flap to keep its motion going. The MEDREN major on the team wrote up an honors thesis that discussed the project’s aims, historical context, aerodynamic concepts, and design process. The project team took its inspiration from an initial attempt to replicate Da Vinci’s design concept based on his observations of nature (large sea birds as gliders and bats’ flapping wings), but they quickly discovered that Da Vinci had no concepts of aerodynamics with which to avail himself, and so they shifted to design a unique glider (like Da Vinci envisioned) using modern aerodynamic engineering concepts, which could make use of flapping motion to extend the glider’s flight and keep it aloft. This was a highly complex design project that, In the end, failed to function as a flapping machine. No one in fact has ever successfully designed such a glider! But the intellectual process and bold attempt produced insights into Da Vinci’s imaginary conception, the complexity of natural bird wings, and the limitations of mechanical engineering.

To read about what went on in the 2017-18 academic year, see our recent online newsletters (with plenty of images): (fall 2017) (winter/spring 2018)

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