The Research Project – Week One, Alabama Butterflies

Monarch_In_MayWelcome to a 50-week adventure in research blogging. My grand plan is to explore the research that is being done at the major universities in each of the 50 states in our country and then blog about it once a week.

Some of the criteria I will follow in selecting research to blog about are: research that I think may be of interest to a wide audience, research that has the potential to have a profound effect on our daily lives and research that may bring new understanding to previously held beliefs.

I plan to go through the 50 states alphabetically so my first state is Alabama. At the University of Alabama web site I found some fascinating research being done on monarch butterflies.

Since monarchs migrate farther than any other insects, scientists wondered what enables them to fly so far. They discovered that monarchs have tiny scales on their wings that apparently help them fly. To analyze how these scales work researchers attach tiny markers to the wings of the butterflies and then film them in flight.

How might this research impact our lives? Dr. Amy Lang, the professor of engineering who is leading this research, believes this study will lead to improved human-made flight, especially with smaller flying vehicles such as drones.

Dr. Lang says, “As engineers, we are looking to nature for inspiration, we have taken a complex situation and boiled it down to whether butterfly scales provide an aerodynamic benefit. If we understand the butterfly wing, there could be other applications.”

This study attracted my attention because it seems counter-intuitive. The exterior of all our man-made flying machines have always been made as smooth as possible to reduce drag. But maybe engineers will have to rethink their designs as they learn more about how the decidedly un-smooth wings of monarch butterflies help them fly so far.

Here is a link to the web page where I read about this research:

http://research.ua.edu/2014/08/fly-like-this/

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