Machine Design

X-rays reveal how flies fly

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory use super-bright X-rays to see how flies remain airborne as they beat their wings 200 times per second.

The intense X-rays, courtesy of the Advanced Photon Source, let engineers see changes in the crystallike configuration of molecules that generate the rapid contraction in fly muscles. The X-resulting views have a resolution of 0.00006 sec, which let them see previously unsuspected interactions between various proteins as the muscles stretch and contract.

The researchers also had to build a "flight simulator" for flies. It tricks the fly into feeling as if it's flying free so it will generate a stable pattern of wing motions.

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