Fort Mill Times

Nature Diary - March 26, 2008

Dr. Peter Tkacik is a local naturalist. Reach him at
Dr. Peter Tkacik is a local naturalist. Reach him at

As a new professor, I get oppor-tunities to meet interesting people and attend interesting seminars. The other night, I had an experience that combined all of the good parts into one package.

I am lucky and have found myself working with a brilliant professor who was able to work the synergies of our skills into a really cool funded research project. We are building a large water tunnel to study the interaction of schooling robot fishes. His expertise is the robot fishes. I'm not as smart, but I do understand the construction of large things and so, we have a mutually beneficial relationship.

Scott once described to me how he came up with the idea of the benefits of schooling. It seems that the mathematics of control and fluid dynamics with respect to vorticity...


But the other day, he said that he was asked to give a seminar on his topic and would I like to come? Sure, I have always wanted to hear the full story without the skimming over the math stuff. Then later that day, some coeds came to me asking for instruction on race car instrumentation and I said I would show them. The race car for my class is instrumented and it would be easy to convince somebody to drive it in the parking lot so we could gather data. So, when Scott came by for the walk to his seminar, I was out in the parking lot with a race car roaring around.

"This looks exciting", he said. "Do you want to pass on the seminar?"

No way. The students driving had done this many times and could put the car away themselves and in the blink of an eye, the race car was gone.

I grabbed my notebook from my car, told the students what to do next and off we went. Half way to the seminar, we walked through a large field in some woods and in it were a dozen deer. I had never seen deer on campus but I had also not walked in the evening.

Spring has arrived.

It had been a jammed packed day and this was just a beautiful image.

So, we made it to the seminar and it was interesting and my friend an entertaining speaker. Then it happened. He was discussing the mathematics of the control theory, the part I so dearly wanted to hear, and it went over my head. I delayed asking him the question and now it seemed rude to stop him. I was tired and I fretted. Then I dozed.

So now I think I understand a little better when my students doze in my class.

Spring is in the air.