Scientists have conducted a peculiar experiment that involved sticking magnets on fruit flies.

Fruit flies are extremely adept fliers and can right themselves from disturbances in flight with exceptional agility and speed. A team of researchers at Cornell University conducted a study to shed light on that extraordinary ability.

The study's lead author, Dr. Tsevi Beatus, said they glued steel pins measuring 1.5 to 2 mm on the back of the fruit flies, which acted as magnets. Although the pins added about 20 percent of the fly's body weight, they didn't affect wing motion.

Fifteen pin-bearing fruit flies were put into a transparent box attached to a pair of "Helmholtz coils," or electromagnets that allow the box's magnetic fields to be precisely controlled. The scientists observed the flies with the help of a camera operating at about 8,000 frames per second. They manipulated the magnetic field of the transparent box, which would in turn affect the flying pattern of the fruit flies.

The study found that whenever the magnetic field was manipulated, the fruit flies never appeared totally out of control. They were able to make swift corrective responses to the interference, regaining control within just 23 milliseconds of magnetic field disturbance.

The scientists also observed the fruit flies return to their normal flying pattern within three or four wing beats.

"Fast video shows flies correct perturbations up to 100 percent within 30 (plus or minus seven) milliseconds by applying a stroke-amplitude asymmetry," stated Dr. Beatus.

Although fruit flies are hardly unique in their ablility to fly, their corrective response time is one of the fastest in the entire animal kingdom. The findings of this study and further research can ostensibly be applied to the development of robot machinery.

The study was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

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