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Weightless Flies

January 23, 2012

Magnetically levitated flies may help researchers study the effects of weightlessness.



Magnetic flies.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Studying weightlessness is expensive and challenging.  Now, scientists at the University of Nottingham in England have developed an alternative.  Research fellow Richard Hill and his colleagues simulate weightlessness in fruit flies by suspending them in a powerful magnetic field.

RICHARD HILL (University of Nottingham, England):

The advantage is that we can do these experiments on the ground.  So we can see the effects of weightlessness on a complex biological organism, without needing to use a rocket, if you like, to go into space and actually go into real weightlessness.


The technique works by tapping into weak, repellent magnetic forces produced by the fly’s body.  The magnetic field repels the fly enough from below to cancel the effect of gravity.  Hill’s team used this method to replicate experiments done previously in space – suggesting that it could help researchers choose and refine their experiments before trying them out in orbit.  I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.