An excerpt from a recent Forbes article:
Researchers at Brown University are three years into another Air Force grant, this a five-year, $6 million grant shared among five other universities, to understand perhaps the most impressive fliers of all--bats.
Unlike insects and birds, bats have long thin fingers that reach through their wings, and their wings are made out of an extraordinarily stretchy membrane. This allows them to twist and shape their wings in ways that other creatures can't, and so maneuver quickly and accurately through tight spaces like caves. They can take off almost vertically from the ground and they can take off hanging upside down.
"Nature does many, many things we don't know how to do in engineering," laments Kenneth Breuer, an engineering professor at Brown and the principal investigator on the Air Force grant.
Breuer and his Brown colleague Sharon Swartz, an evolutionary biologist, put bats in wind tunnels and study how they move their wings during takeoff, flight and landing. Using lasers that illuminate tiny particles in the air flow created by the bats' wings, the researchers study the turbulence created.
Bat research highlighted in Forbes on June 26, 2009.