Like their automobile counterparts, airplane engineers have been looking for ways to safely send those 70-ton metallic birds into the air on a leaner fuel diet to cut down on carbon emissions and rising transportation costs. Earlier this year, engineers Geoffrey Spedding at the University of Southern California and Joachim Huyssen at Northwest University in South Africa put their heads together to tackle that airplane fuel efficiency conundrum. After reconfiguring the typical plane design in order to maximize the plane’s aerodynamics, they came up with a brilliantly basic answer: Airplanes should look more like birds.
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The solution involves the infamous Navier-Stokes equations, which are so difficult, there is a $1-million prize for solving them.