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The Shape and Function of the Nasal Cavity

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GFS - Growth form and self-organisation

The nasal cavity is a vital component of the respiratory system that heats and humidifies inhaled air in all vertebrates.  In this talk, I will describe a recent research program aimed to understand the peculiarities of the nasal cavity shape, as it pertains both to evolution and medicine. The first part of the talk will focus on evolutionary considerations: despite the common function of the nasal cavity, the shapes of nasal cavities vary widely across animals. We aim to understand this variability by connecting the nasal geometry to its function by theoretically studying the airflow and the associated scalar exchange that describes heating and humidification. We find that optimal geometries, which have minimal resistance for a given exchange efficiency, have a constant gap width between their side walls, but their overall shape is restricted only by the geometry of the head. This provides an explanation for  the geometric variations of natural nasal cavities quantitatively. The second part of the talk focuses on medical diagnostics; with a nasal surgeon we are trying to understand the consequences and effects of nasal surgery. The flow in the nose is at a sufficiently small scale that it has never been directly measured. Working with a computational scientist we use CT scans of the human nasal cavity to compute internal fluid flows and then study their characteristics. [Work joint with David Zwicker (SEAS, Harvard); Rodolfo Ostillo Monico (SEAS, Harvard); Daniel Lieberman (Human and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard); Simone Melichionna (Rome) and Robin Lindsay (Mass. Eye & Ear)

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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