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Cornell University
LASSP -  Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics

Cornell Laboratory for Atomic and Solid State Physics

Jane Wang's Insect Flight Research Highlighted by Cornell Research

The dragonflies free fall for about 100 milliseconds before they roll over and right themselves. “Once a dragonfly senses that it’s falling, it quickly goes through a set of neurocomputations to instruct its muscles,” Wang explains. “The muscles contract and modulate the wing motion. The wings interact with the air, modifying the aerodynamic forces, and the resulting torque rotates the dragonfly’s body 180 degrees.”


Dragonflies flap their wings about 40 times a second. To track the wing motion, Wang uses high-speed video cameras, filming at three different angles. She constructs computer simulations to examine the consequence of wing motions on the insect’s body movement. “3D tracking tells us about the changes in a dragonfly’s wing motion, but relating these changes to the body rotation is a complex dynamical problem,” Wang says. “We take advantage of the fact that the governing laws of flight can be described by equations, and this allows us to make specific predictions. These predictions can be tested in experiments and can be further related back to the other pieces in the puzzle involving neural responses.”

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