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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

MH370 research one of the top maths stories of 2015

DOHA - Texas A&M Qatar (TAMUQ) mathematician Dr Goong ‘Gordon’ Chen’s research theorising what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight 370 (MH370) has been named one of the top maths stories of 2015 by American Mathematical Society.

Chen and an interdisciplinary research team theorised that the plane plunged vertically into the southern Indian Ocean in March 2014. The researchers’ computer simulations led to the forensic assertion that a 90-degree nosedive explains the lack of debris or spilled oil in the water near where the plane is presumed to have crashed. The research was the cover story in the April 2015 issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

The research was supported by a grant from Qatar National Research Fund and made headlines all over the world, including CNN, the Huffington Post and International Business Times.

Chen is an applied mathematician who teaches and researches at TAMUQ and Texas A&M University’s main campus in College Station, Texas, US. He led the team of collaborators from Texas A&M, Penn State, Virginia Tech, MIT and Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute in simulating and modelling what might have happened to the plane.

The researchers used applied maths and computational fluid dynamics to conduct simulations on the RAAD Supercomputer at TAMUQ of a Boeing 777 plunging into the ocean, a so-called “water entry” problem in applied maths and aerospace engineering. The team simulated five scenarios and concluded that based on all available evidence — especially the lack of floating debris or oil spills near the area of the presumed crash — the most likely theory is that the plane entered the water at a vertical or steep angle.

The fluid dynamic simulations indicated that for a vertical water entry of the plane, there would be no large bending moment, which is what happens when an external force, or moment, is applied to a structural element (such as a plane), which causes the fuselage to buckle and break up. As the vertical water-entry is the smoothest with only small bending moment in contrast with other angles of entry, the aircraft is less likely to experience “global failure,” or break up on entry near the ocean surface, which would explain the lack of debris or oil near the presumed crash site.

Chen said in such a situation the wings would have broken off almost immediately and, along with other heavy debris, would have sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

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