Insect Flight

Image: Insect Flight by MC Escher

Caption: Z. Jane Wang (Cornell University) has developed a theory of how some insects can manipulate the flow of air around them to switch in an instant between darting motions and hovering stillness. Prior studies of insect flight have indicated that rotation of the wings during flapping is a crucial part of the mechanism by which an insect controls lift forces and alters direction during flight. Wang's theory explains how the rotating motion of insect wings during flapping creates vortices that permit an insect to hover. She found a two-dimensional mechanism for creating a downward dipole jet of counter-rotating vortices that generates lift. The vortex dynamics explained the role of the phase relation between the wing translation and rotation in lift generation. It also gave an intuitive picture of why the instantaneous forces can reach a periodic state after only a few strokes, which in principle enables an insect to take off quickly. It showed that a two-dimensional hovering motion can generate enough lift to support a typical insectís weight, thus dispelling the myth that "bumble bees cannot fly according to conventional aerodynamics." In addition, Wang has established a collaboration with Michael Dickinsonís group (University of California, Berkeley), where she has been comparing the unsteady forces and vorticity field of hovering flight among two-dimensional computations, experiments of robotic fruit flies, and quasi-steady predictions. These results were featured in a Nature Science Update article. (
Nature Science Update (September 11, 2000)

Source: Jane Wang and MC Escher
Cornell University, and Center for Applied Mathematics (CAM), Cornell Center for Material Research (CCMR)

NSF Funded: yes
NSF-NATO postdoctoral fellow at U. Oxford 1996-1997, Recipient of an NSF Early Career Award and an ONR Young Investigator Award
DMS-0075510 (co-funded by Computational Mathematics)

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