One day in 2014, Zhiming Yuan (juh-mihng yoo-ahn) and his daughter were walking in a park. They noticed a family of geese in a pond. The goslings, or baby geese, paddled in a line behind their mother. “My daughter asked me why they did that, but I didn’t know,” Yuan says. “I decided to find the answer.”
Yuan likes to investigate these types of questions. He studies hydrodynamics, the science of how water moves, at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. In past research, Yuan had studied how to design ships so they travel easily through water. He also researched how swimmers can use the movement of water to their advantage.
Yuan found that when boats or swimmers travel together in a line, they use less energy. He wondered if waterbirds might also save energy by swimming single file. Yuan set out to investigate.