Lights and Landing Gear

Moving to Ohio from California has been a big transition. It’s more humid, people are very talkative to strangers, and there are all kinds of new insects. As someone who is very fond of bugs, this is pretty exciting for me. Since I arrived in late August, I missed the fireflies, but am eagerly looking forward to next year.

Insects are an incredibly diverse group of animals, with adaptations that many fields can benefit from studying. People look at beetles and butterflies for insights into structural color, at flies and dragonflies for flight techniques, and to ants and other hive-minded insects for social behavior interactions.  

Researchers in Korea have looked at the nanostructures of a firefly’s abdomen to determine how it affects the passage of the beetle’s bioluminescene from its photogenic layer to the outside world. By testing various heights of artificial nanostuctures, they were able to create their own lens that permitted an easier transmission of internal light.

DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency) recently released a video demonstrating robotic landing legs on a helicopter. These legs, which resemble a many-jointed grasshopper’s, can be used by aircraft during takeoff and landing on unstable and uneven surfaces. Sensors guide the extension of each leg as the helicopter touches down, keeping the aircraft level.

These are just a few examples of insect-inspired biomimicry. I expect this trend will continue as people look to this amazing group of animals for biomimetic concepts in many scientific disciplines.


Kim, Jae-Jun, Youngseop Lee, Ha Gon Kim, Ki-Ju Choi, Hee-Seok Kweon, Seongchong Park, and Ki-Hun Jeong. 2012. “Biologically Inspired LED Lens from Cuticular Nanostructures of Firefly Lantern.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109 (46): 18674–78.

Darpa news site:

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