Dr Ignazio Maria Viola wins €2M ERC Grant for Dandidrone Project

Dr Ignazio Maria Viola, Reader in the School of Engineering, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant, worth €2M over five years for his Dandidrone project.

What is the Dandidrone project?

Imagine we could fly small drones that remain airborne for days: monitoring the environment, searching for pollutants, tracking airborne coronaviruses. Unfortunately, this is not yet possible, because insect-scale drones can remain airborne for only a few minutes before the power runs out.

But some natural flyers, by contrast, remain airborne for days without using any power. One of the most extraordinary examples is the dandelion seed: it takes off from just 30 cm away from the ground, and travels for hundreds of kilometres powered only by the wind.

In a recent study led by Viola and Naomi Nakayama (School of Biology), of which some findings were published in the leading journal Nature [1], the researchers revealed that the flight of the dandelion is enhanced by a new flow feature that had never been observed before: the separated vortex ring.

In this ERC-funded five-year project, Viola will next investigate how the amazing flight capabilities of the dandelion can be replicated by manmade flyers. The project seeks to understand and establish proof of principle of a completely new fluid mechanics mechanism that might enable small flyers to passively hover in turbulent wind.

The funding will enable the recruitment of three postdoctoral research associates, two PhD students, the construction of a one-of-its-kind wind tunnel to study small flyers in gusts, and a period of study at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, USA.

Watch: The Secret Physics of Dandelion Seeds


About ERC Consolidator Grants

The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is a leading European funding organisation which every year selects and funds the best creative researchers to run projects based in Europe. It offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants.

The ERC Consolidator Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers with seven to twelve years of postdoctoral experience, and a scientific track record showing great promise.

The ERC received 2,453 research proposals in this round, and approximately 12% were funded, across 24 countries in Europe, covering a wide range of academic disciplines.


[1] Cummins, C., Seale, M., Macente, A., Certini, D., Mastropaolo, E., Viola, I. M. & Nakayama, N. A separated vortex ring underlies the flight of the dandelion. Nature 562, 414–418 (2018).

Find out more

A dandelion seed in flight and (right) with the air bubble it generates, visualised in a wind tunnel (credit Cathal Cummins)
A dandelion seed in flight and (right) with the air bubble it generates, visualised in a wind tunnel (credit Cathal Cummins)