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Z. Jane Wang


Insect Flight: From Newton’s law to NeuronsBiophysics, Computational Modeling, table-top experiments


I am fascinated by the physics of living organisms, with a focus on understanding insect flight. How does an insect fly, why does it fly so well, and how can we infer its ‘thoughts’ from its flight dynamics? The movement of an insect is not only dictated by the laws of physics, but also by its response to the external world.

We have been seeking mechanistic explanations of the complex movement of insect flight. Starting from the Navier-Stokes equations governing the unsteady aerodynamics of flapping flight, we worked to build a theoretical framework for interpreting and predicting the functions of an insect’s internal machinery for flight. In this approach, the physics of flight informs us about the internal computing scheme for a specific behavior. 

Our most recent work makes new connections to neural science. We build physical models for quantitative analyses of flight reflexes, and relate our findings to the underlying neural feedback circuitries for flight. 

Ongoing Projects

Computing 3D free flight Dragonfly flight: Righting reflexes Flies:  Testing our conjecture on the role of fly’s b1 muscle on flight stability using genetically modified flies.

Awards and Honors

  • Simons Fellowship in Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, 2020
  • Simons Fellow, Newton Institute, University of Cambridge, 2017
  • Fellow of American Physical Society, 2014
  • Radcliffe Fellow, 2007
  • Cornell Provost’s Award for Excellence, 2005
  • David and Lucille Packard Fellow, 2002-2007
  • Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, 2001-2004
  • NSF Early Career Award, 2001-2006
  • NSF-NATO Postdoctoral Fellow, 1997

Educational Background

  • Professor, Physics, Cornell University, 2011-present
  • Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University, 2009-present
  • Visiting Scientist, Janeliar Research, Howard Hughes Medical Institute,  2010-2015
  • Associate Professor, Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Cornell University, 2004-2009
  • Assistant Professor, Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Cornell University, 1999-2004
  • Visiting Member, Courant Institute of the Mathematical Sciences, New York University, 1997-1999
  • NSF-NATO Postdoctoral Fellow, Theoretical Physics, University of Oxford, 1997
  • Ph.D. in Physics, University of Chicago, 1996
  • B.S. in Physics, Fudan University, 1989