Engineers at New York University have pinched the action of the wings of birds to use in the design of new water pump.

The pump moves fluid using vibration.

“When we use a household pump, that pump is very likely a centrifugal pump. It uses a high-speed rotor to move water by throwing it from the pump’s inlet to the outlet,” says NYU researcher Benjamin Thiria, who carried out the work in collaboration with Jun Zhang.

Birds are able to manipulate airflow with every flap of their wings, pushing air in one direction while moving themselves against it.

In Thiria and Zhang’s new pump design, two sawtooth-shaped panels are placed with their teeth facing each other.

When these move, they create a channel which rapidly opens and closes.

Water is pulled into the channel when it expands and then forced out when it contracts.

“When a fluid is squeezed and expanded repeatedly, the asymmetric boundary forces the fluid to move in one direction,” said Zhang.

The designers say the pump would be especially useful if it were piggy-backed on something that was already vibrating.

In industrial situations where machinery is vibrating excessively, the energy from the vibration could be captured and used extra tasks such as circulating coolant or lube.

The results of the research are published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.