Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Researchers look to butterflies to improve flight

Date:
November 6, 2013
Source:
University of Alabama
Summary:
A better understanding of the aerodynamic properties of butterfly wings may lead to improved human-made flight, according to new research.

Dr. Amy Lang is studying the aerodynamic properties of the scales that line butterfly wings.
Credit: The University of Alabama

A better understanding of the aerodynamic properties of butterfly wings may lead to improved human-made flight, according to research at The University of Alabama recently funded by the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Amy Lang, associate professor of aerospace engineering and mechanics, was awarded approximately $280,000 by NSF to study the tiny scales on butterfly wings that help lift the insect despite its low speed during flight. Lang, who also works with shark scales, uses bio-inspired engineering to help improve the movement of flow over wings, for instance, specifically by altering the boundary where the air interacts with the moving surface, such as a butterfly wing.

“The butterfly scales are beautifully arranged on the wing, and how the scales are arranged is where the aerodynamic benefit comes in,” Lang said.

The scales covering butterfly and moth wings represent about 190 million years of natural selection for insect flight efficiency, with the Monarch butterfly estimated to have appeared as recently as 250,000 years ago. Evolutionary adaptations in the structure of the scales appear to have led to a unique micro-pattern that reduces drag and likely increases thrust and lift during flapping and glided flight.

One scale on a butterfly wing is as small as a tenth of a millimeter. Arranged like shingles on a roof, the scales stick up slightly, trapping a ball of air under the scale and allowing air to flow smoothly over it, Lang said.

Despite myth, butterflies can fly without the scales, but initial testing showed it requires more flapping for the insect to remain in the air. As part of the research, Monarch butterflies with scales and those with scales brushed off flew in an autonomous tracking facility at The University of Alabama in Huntsville directed by Dr. Nathan Slegers, associate professor mechanical and aerospace engineering.

The lab used high-speed video of a Monarch in flight to show that the same butterfly without its scales flapped its wings about 10 percent more to maintain the same flight.

“This reduced energy expended during flight would be important to the Monarch which has the longest migration of any insect,” Lang said.

With the grant, Lang will continue to work with Slegers at UAH to study Monarchs in flight, and also with Dr. Will Schreiber, associate professor of mechanical engineering at UA, and Dr. John Yoder, an associate professor of biological sciences at UA, who will study the scales’ biology to help model the scales.

Lang and her student will study clipped wings and models of butterfly-inspired geometries about 10 to 100 times larger than real scales. Experiments in the lab will test how butterfly wings improve airflow.

“If we understand the butterfly wing, there could be other applications,” Lang said.

Modeled scales could improve airflow in micro area vehicles, or MAVs, miniature, unmanned, aerial robots primarily used for military reconnaissance and surveillance purposes. With bio-inspired geometries on its wings, MAVs could carry a larger payload or use less fuel. Lang speculated that in the future solar cells could be modeled after butterfly scales on wings that could provide energy and improve flight.

For now, though, Lang hopes to fundamentally understand the advantages a butterfly gets from the scales on its wings.

“Innovations in the field of boundary layer control are needed to provide efficient methodologies to decrease drag and improve efficiency,” she said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Alabama. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Alabama. "Researchers look to butterflies to improve flight." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131106122029.htm>.
University of Alabama. (2013, November 6). Researchers look to butterflies to improve flight. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131106122029.htm
University of Alabama. "Researchers look to butterflies to improve flight." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131106122029.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Rare Lion Cubs Make Debut at Belgrade Zoo

Raw: Rare Lion Cubs Make Debut at Belgrade Zoo

AP (Oct. 17, 2014) Two white lion cubs were born in Belgrade zoo three weeks ago. White lions are a rare mutation of a species found in South Africa and some cultures consider them divine. (Oct. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

Buzz60 (Oct. 17, 2014) Feeling down? Reach for the refrigerator, not the medicine cabinet! TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) shares some of the best foods to boost your mood. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sweet Times for Hard Cider Makers

Sweet Times for Hard Cider Makers

AP (Oct. 16, 2014) With hard cider making a hardcore comeback across the country, craft makers are trying to keep up with demand and apple growers are tapping a juicy new revenue stream. (Oct. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Meet Garfi the Angry Cat

Meet Garfi the Angry Cat

Buzz60 (Oct. 16, 2014) Garfi is one frowny, feisty feline - downright angry! Ko Im (@koimtv) introduces us to the latest animal celebrity taking over the Internet. You can follow more of Garfi's adventures on Twitter (@MeetGarfi) and Facebook (Garfi). Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins