Apr 3, 2010

The Discovery Files: On the Fly (Learning English with Science)

Audio Transcript:

Not Just Wingin' It...

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

If you could hitch a ride[1] on the back of a fruit fly -- WHOAAAA! You'd marvel at the stability of one of the world's most agile flying machines. It can react to disturbances in its flight pattern by making miniscule corrections -- adjusting its wing angle sometimes by as many as 250 times per second! Wind comes up -- no problem. Swatter? Ha! I scoff at you!

We're just discovering the secrets of flight of these acrobatic little buggers thanks to the work of Cornell researchers. The team studied the flies with the help of both computer modeling and the use of 3 high-speed cameras, so that every little motion during flight could be captured and documented. To interrupt their flight patterns, small pins were attached to the flies' backs. Then, a mild magnetic field could be used to knock them off-course. Talk about a buzz kill[2].

The fruit flies took it all in stride[3], and came through with 'flying colors.'[4] As soon as the magnetic field was applied, the flies made an instant correction. It seems their secret is a stabilizer reflex that tells the wings how hard to paddle to recover from a mid flight stumble.

We may someday fly in a flapping-wing aircraft modeled on the principles of flight we're learning from this tiny creature. Some 'fruitful' findings from a flighty little fly and we never once had to call in a 'swat' team.[5]

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

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[1]hitch a ride (with sb)
Get a free ride from a passing vehicle.

[2]buzz kill
A pun. The slang means a sudden undesired event that causes one's "high" or "buzz" to become of a lesser experience or depleted.

[3]take something in stride
To calmly and easily deal with something unpleasant or difficult and not let it affect what you are doing.

[4]come through/pass with flying colors
To complete a difficult activity very successfully.

[5]'swat' team
A pun. SWAT team, Special Weapons and Tactics team, a specially trained group of police who deal with the most dangerous and violent situations.


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  2. Alan Lin3/4/10 20:44

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