Carl White

"I am grateful for my rich, multi-disciplinary experiences through UVA and those individuals who made them possible. I hope to serve as a similar role model and use my degree to improve the lives of others."

Current Research - Fish-Swimming Physics

I am currently a PhD candidate in Professor Hilary Bart-Smith’s Bio-Inspired Engineering Research Laboratory. For my research, I create tuna-inspired research platforms to improve our understanding of fish-swimming physics. This research is an active collaboration with faculty and students at Harvard University, Princeton University, Lehigh University, and University of West Chester, PA, through the Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) Multi-disciplinary University Research Initiatives (MURI) Program.
Significant effort in unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) research is focused on understanding biological swimming to improve swimming performance over traditional propeller-driven systems. The fundamental difference in propulsive mechanisms presents both benefits and challenges; propellers are well-modeled and relatively simple, whereas biological propulsion is less understood and complex. If this gap in understanding were to close, however, the potential for high-performance systems would be significant. Scombrid fishes, including tunas in particular, are an ideal group for studying high-performance swimming because they demonstrate both high-speed and high-endurance locomotion. The purpose of my research is to aggressively close the performance gap between biology and current artificial, bio-inspired underwater platforms.
To this end, I develop underwater platforms inspired by tuna. These tunabots capture the key morphological and kinematic features of their biological counterparts using data provided by biologists, especially those from Harvard University’s Lauder Laboratory. We design, test, and quantify the performance (e.g., speed and economy) of this tuna-like experimental platform. We also apply the same analyses used for swimming fish on the platform for a rigorous comparison with biology. The experimental platforms provide a powerful research tool for exploring the high-performance space of fish swimming and lay the foundation for next-generation UUVs.

What made you choose UVA Engineering?

I decided to pursue aeronautical or aerospace engineering before the college applications process in high school, so my first step of applying was simply a matter of picking out highly-ranked schools that offered such a degree. UVA was one of the few universities that met these criteria. From that short list, UVA appealed to me because a well-rounded education is encouraged on Grounds; I would have excellent liberal arts courses to balance my technical education. The Blue Ridge Mountains, Honor Code, and high caliber of student body sealed the deal.

What drew you to Aerospace Engineering?

I did not choose to pursue engineering up until college applications. The thoughts of pursuing science or music were as appealing to me as engineering, so I struggled to decide. This was a happy problem, of course, because I was fortunate to have outstanding opportunities. The challenges, problem-solving, and innovation of past engineering projects had always felt rewarding, so ultimately, I chose engineering. I grew up swimming, cycling, and sailing before I knew much about aerodynamics or hydrodynamics. Yet without realizing, I was developing an intuition for optimizing lift and drag. My inclination towards fluid dynamics attracted me to aerospace engineering in particular, plus I expected privatized space to gain momentum which would improve career options.

What are some projects you've worked on in the department?

The tuna-inspired research platforms are utilized for several projects advised by Professor Hilary Bart-Smith. Specifically, I am quantifying the roles of (i) tail beat frequency, (ii) body flexibility, (iii) fin-fin interactions (dorsal/anal fins, finlets, and caudal fin), (iv) caudal fin flexibility, and (v) peduncle stiffness in propulsive performance.

What do you plan to do with your degree?

I have had the unique opportunity at UVA to excel in seacraft, aircraft, and spacecraft, and my current research allows me to collaborate with wonderful biologists. I am grateful for my rich, multi-disciplinary experiences through UVA and those individuals who made them possible. I hope to serve as a similar role model and use my degree to improve the lives of others.

What can you tell us about your experience?

Between UVA undergrad and my current PhD journey towards becoming a double Hoo, I had a different kind of adventure: bicycling across America for the affordable housing cause. Through the nonprofit organization Bike & Build, my team and I cycled from Connecticut to California during the summer. We dipped our rear wheel in the Atlantic then our front wheel in the Pacific 4000 miles later. Before and throughout the trip, we raised money and awareness for affordable housing issues. We also gave community presentations and volunteered for local affordable housing organizations along our route. A handful of amazing Hoos participate in Bike & Build each year, and I strongly encourage you to consider doing the same, especially if you do not think of yourself as an extreme athlete. Affordable housing shortages are present and escalating here in Charlottesville. If you like service, advocacy, and adventure, feel free to contact me directly with questions about Bike & Build.

Awards, Scholarships and Designations

Distinguished MAE Fellowship, 2020
Community Assistant, UVA Graduate Housing & Residence Life
CNN 10 feature of Tunabot, Sept. 23, 2019
Virginia Triathlon Team
Charlottesville Community Bikes volunteer