In­no­va­tion in the wings

Windsor Star - - YOU - SARAH KNAP­TON

La­dy­birds could hold the key to build­ing an um­brella that does not blow in­side out on a windy day, sci­en­tists be­lieve.

The beetle — also known as a la­dy­bug — man­ages to pack its wings away in com­plex origami­like folds be­neath its cara­pace, be­fore open­ing them into a fixed, strong mem­brane in flight.

Un­til now, the fold­ing mech­a­nism has re­mained a mys­tery be­cause no­body could see be­neath the outer spotty forewings, known as ely­tra.

But sci­en­tists in Ja­pan cre­ated a see-through forewing out of trans­par­ent

resin and transplanted it onto a la­dy­bird to pro­vide a lit­eral win­dow into the process, us­ing high-speed cam­eras and CT scans to ob­serve. They say it will help ex­plain how the elas­tic wings can main­tain their strength and rigid­ity in flight, a find­ing that could im­prove the de­sign of um­brel­las, satel­lites and mi­cro­scopic med­i­cal in­stru­ments.

“I be­lieve that beetle wing-fold­ing has the po­ten­tial to change the um­brella de­sign that has been ba­si­cally un­changed for more than 1,000 years,” said as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Kazuya Saito of the Univer­sity of Tokyo’s In­sti­tute of In­dus­trial Sci­ence.

La­dy­birds are highly mo­bile in­sects that can switch be­tween walk­ing and fly­ing with ease and speed be­cause they can quickly de­ploy and col­lapse their wings.

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