An investigation into how owls fly and hunt in silence has enabled researchers to develop a prototype coating for wind turbine blades that could significantly reduce the amount of noise they make. Early tests of the material, which mimics the intricate structure of an owl's wing, have demonstrated that it could significantly reduce the amount of noise produced by wind turbines and other types of fan blades, such as those in computers or planes. Because wind turbines are heavily braked in order to minimize noise, the addition of this new surface would mean that they could be run at much higher speeds - producing more energy, while making less noise. For an average-sized wind farm, this could mean several additional megawatts worth of electricity. The surface has been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with researchers at three institutions in the USA. The results were presented on June 22, 2015 at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Aeroacoustics Conference in Dallas, Texas. This conference runs from June 22 to June 26. "Many owls - primarily large owls like barn owls or great grey owls - can hunt by stealth, swooping down and capturing their prey undetected," said Professor Nigel Peake of Cambridge's Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, who led the research. "While we've known this for centuries, what hasn't been known is how or why owls are able to fly in silence." Dr. Peake and his collaborators at Virginia Tech, Lehigh University, and Florida Atlantic University used high-resolution microscopy to examine owl feathers in fine detail. They observed that the flight feathers on an owl's wing have a downy covering, which resembles a forest canopy when viewed from above.
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