Scientists have used a particle accelerator to obtain high-speed 3D X-ray visualisations of the flight muscles of flies.
The team from Oxford University, Imperial College, and the Paul Scherrer Institute developed a groundbreaking new scanning technique to film inside live flying insects.
Their article, including 3D movies of the blowfly flight, was published in the journal PLOS Biology.
The movies offer a glimpse into the inner workings of one of nature’s most complex mechanisms, showing that structural deformations are the key to understanding how a fly controls its wing beat.
In the time that it takes a human to blink, a blowfly can beat its wings 50 times, controlling each wing beat using numerous tiny steering muscles, some as thin as a human hair.
The membranous wings contain no muscles. All of the flight muscles are hidden out of sight within the thorax.
The flight muscles oscillate back and forth 150 times per second.
The scientists hope to use their results to inform the design of new micro-mechanical devices.
Dr Simon Walker from Oxford says: “The fly’s wing hinge is probably the most complex joint in nature, and is the product of more than 300 million years of evolutionary refinement. The result is a mechanism that differs dramatically from conventional man-made designs; built to bend and flex rather than to run like clockwork.”
The 3D movies of the blowfly flight:
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