News & Ideas

A Robot Swims with the Fishes

Screenshot from video: the robotic fish is tested in a large tank.
The robotic fish is tested in the lab. Video by Alan C. Grazioso/Harvard Radcliffe Institute

Yahya Modarres-Sadeghi’s robotic fish can one day be integrated into marine environments, allowing scientists and students to explore the behavior of fish in their changing habitats.

As a professor of mechanical engineering, Yahya Modarres-Sadeghi’s research focuses on fluid-structure interactions. His current project and focus of his 2022–2023 Radcliffe fellowship—cheekily titled “Swims with the Fishes”—holds great promise for marine biologists, ecologists, and others working to stem the impact of the climate crisis. Scientists estimate that Earth’s oceans absorb more than 90 percent of the excess heat attributed to greenhouse gas emissions. Our warming oceans are home to up to 10 million marine species. What does this mean for different species of fish? How will climate affect their movements, feeding, and breeding?

Modarres-Sadeghi explains that once his robotic fish is refined, it can be used by scientists in a variety of fields. It could be used by environmental scientists to study and measure different phenomena in the ocean—ocean temperature, direction of currents, the details of how fish schooling occurs. “If one can send such robots to unexplored parts of the ocean, who knows what they can discover? New species of ocean animals, perhaps?” he adds. “In the long term, and with the assumption that a sustainable robotic fish can stay with a school of fish for extended periods (which is challenging to achieve), then the robot can monitor changes in fish behavior, which can potentially lead to new discoveries.”

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