Edinburgh Research Explorer

Cathal Cummins

(Former employee or visitor)

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Cathal is an applied mathematician working as a postdoctoral research associate at both the School of Engineering and the School of Biological Science of the University of Edinburgh. He obtained his BSc in Mathematical Physics from University College Dublin in 2009, for which he was awarded the Conway Medal in Mathematical Physics. A passion for real-world problems led him to the University of Limerick; fully supported by a Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry (MACSI) scholarship, he was awarded an MSc in Mathematical Modelling in 2011 and a PhD in Applied Mathematics in 2014. His novel research has won international prizes in physics and in applied mathematics and he shares his passion for mathematics as an award-winning scientific speaker. To date, Cathal has published papers on the mathematics of Guinness, coffee brewing, microfluidics, and wave energy. At the University of Edinburgh, he uses mathematics and experiments to unravel the incredibly efficient flight mechanism of tiny seeds.


  • 2014, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Applied Mathematics, University of Limerick
  • 2011, Master of Science (MSc), Mathematical Modelling, University of Limerick
  • 2009, Bachelor of Science (BSc), Mathematical Physics, University College Dublin

Research Groups

Institute for Energy Systems, School of Engineering

Institute for Molecular Plant Science, School of Biological Sciences

Research Interests

My research is in interdisciplinary fluid dynamics, and I specialise in the interaction of fluids with solid bodies; in particular, those that lead to counter-intuitive flow phenomena and the formation of coherent flow structures. There are three overarching themes to my research: Interfacial and multiphase flows, biological flows, and wave-structure interaction. My research is characterised by my use of analytical, numerical, and physical modelling, and my award-winning research includes papers on liquid drops that climb uphill against gravity, bubbles in beer that sink, and the incredibly efficient flight mechanisms of small seeds.


Interfacial and multiphase flows

When two or more phases meet, the resulting interface forms a capillary surface such a bubble, drop, or liquid bridge. My research on drops and liquid bridges focuses on the effect of the contact line (the curve forming the triple fluid-gas-solid interface) on the dynamics of the capillary surface. My research on bubbles explores the dynamics of bubbles in buoyancy-driven flows.


Biological flows

Evolution finds ingenious ways to achieve locomotion through fluids at a wide range of Reynolds numbers (Re): from corkscrewing spermatozoa to the auto-rotation of maple seeds. My research focuses on the interplay between low- and intermediate-Re regimes, where I aim to uncover the convergent hydrodynamic strategies to propulsion that nature has evolved. My research on the flight of lightweight seeds uses analytical (boundary integral methods), numerical (direct numerical simulations), and physical modelling (wind tunnel tests) to uncover their incredibly efficient flight mechanism. My groundbreaking research revealed an entirely new class of vortex, which enhances the flight capacity of the seed.

Wave-structure interaction

Wave energy is one of the most promising technologies to tackle the energy ``grand challenges'' facing the planet. My research in wave energy focuses on the hydrodynamics of Wave Energy Converters (WECs). Simplified hydrodynamic models (Boundary Element Methods, BEMs) are currently used to model the dynamics of WECs. However, this approach neglects viscous effects, and overestimates the power capture of WECs, particularly in resonant conditions.  By including the effects of viscosity in BEMs, my research leads the way forward for the modelling of WECs, giving realistic power prediction, without the need for CFD.

Research students

  • Yuting Quan (MSc)
  • Daniele Certini (PhD)


  • Daniele Certini (Alumna: MSc, 2017)

Research outputs

  1. A separated vortex ring underlies the flight of the dandelion

    Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

  2. Design principles of hair-like structures as biological machines

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

  3. The effect of permeability on the flow past permeable disks at low Reynolds numbers

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

View all (14) »

Research activities & awards

  1. Permeable disks at low Reynolds numbers

    Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesOral presentation

  2. The miniature parachute of the dandelion fruit

    Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesOral presentation

  3. 70th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

View all (14) »

Latest prizes

  1. UK Fluids Network photo competition

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

  2. Physics of Fluids Research Highlight

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

  3. BAMC/SIAM Best Student Talk

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

View all (5) »

Research press coverage

  1. Dandelion fluff makes a surprisingly effective parachute

    Press/Media: Project or Organisational News Item

  2. SCIFest

    Press/Media: Public Engagement Activities

  3. Science Foundation Prize Lecture

    Press/Media: Public Engagement Activities

View all (9) »

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