News & Events
Michael H. Dickinson, Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering, and his team find that fruit flies follow horizontal edges to regulate altitude. This finding contradicts a previous model, which posited that insects adjust their height by visually measuring the motion beneath them as they fly. [Caltech Press Release]
Michael Dickinson, the Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering, with postdoctoral scholars Gaby Maimon and Andrew Straw have obtained the first recordings of brain-cell activity in an actively flying fruit fly. The work suggests that at least part of the brain of the fruit fly "is in a different and more sensitive state during flight than when the fly is quiescent," Dickinson says. [Caltech Press Release]
The collaboration of Pietro Perona, Allen E. Puckett Professor of Electrical Engineering, Michael Dickinson Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering, and David J. Anderson, Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology, is highlighted in a Nature article entitled "Flies on film". [Nature Article]
Research by Michael H. Dickinson, the Zarem Professor of Bioengineering and David Lentink of Wageningen, reveals that, by swirling, maple seeds generate a tornado-like vortex that sits atop the front leading edge of the seeds as they spin slowly to the ground. This leading-edge vortex lowers the air pressure over the upper surface of the maple seed, effectively sucking the wing upward to oppose gravity, giving it a boost. The vortex doubles the lift generated by the seeds compared to nonswirling seeds. "There is enormous interest in the development of micro air vehicles, which, because of their size, must function using the same physical principles employed by small, natural flying devices such as insects and maple seeds," says Dickinson. [Caltech Press Release]
Michael Dickinson, Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering, and graduate student Gwyneth Card have determined the secret to a fly's evasive maneuvering using high-resolution, high-speed digital imaging of fruit flies faced with that looming swatter. [Caltech Press Release]
Michael Dickinson, Esther M. and Abe M. Zarem Professor of Bioengineering, is among the 190 new Fellows elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year. Dickinson studies animal physiology and behavior and has become well known for Robofly, a mechanical fly that sprang from his work on the neurobiology and biomechanics of fly locomotion. Throughout his career, Dickinson has used a variety of tools, such as wind tunnels, virtual reality simulators, high-speed video, and giant robotic models, to determine how the poppy seed-sized brains of these tiny insects can rapidly control aerodynamic forces. More than a simple understanding of the material basis for insect flight, Dickinson's studies provide insight into complex systems operating on biological and physical principles: neuronal signaling within brains, the dynamics of unsteady fluid flow, the structural mechanics of composite materials, and the behavior of nonlinear systems are all linked when a fly takes wing. [Caltech Press Release].
Using a flight simulator, Michael Dickinson, the Zarem Professor of Bioengineering, and postdoctoral students Gaby Maimon and Andrew Straw, have come closer to understanding what guides the decision making of the common fruit fly as it zips through space. Their experiments were conducted on both free-flying flies and on flies tethered within a virtual-reality flight simulator. In the flight simulator, flies could steer toward or away from images displayed on an electronic panorama. "We can present the fly with different scenes and the fly reacts to them, like a 12-year-old boy playing a video game," says Dickinson. [Caltech Press Release]