Airdate: Oct 27, 2009
Scientist: Bob Full
KSC Biomimicry - Running Roaches
Cockroaches might love junk food, but that's not why they're running on treadmills.
music; ambience cockroach treadmill
BF: "Here we have a cockroach, and it's running on a treadmill."
Well, if cockroaches are going to outlive the human race, it stands to reason that they ought to stay in shape. I'm Jim Metzner. and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Bob Full is a biologist at UC Berkeley, and he's developed a miniature treadmill, not to exercise a cockroach, but to measure its movements.
BF: "And what we do on this treadmill is we have high-speed video cameras filming it to watch its leg movements, and we also measure the oxygen that it uses so that we can determine how much energy it requires. Just like you want to know how efficient your car is how many miles per gallon it gets we also like to know how efficient the animals are, and the animals are often quite efficient, and we don't know why. And so, to discover their secrets we measure this directly."
Learning these secrets could lead to the development of mini-robots and other machines which are inspired by the capabilities of cockroaches and other insects.
BF: "There's a centipede that runs very fast, and we were surprised that when they run at the highest speeds, they only have three legs on the ground at once, just like an insect, even though they normally have 44 legs operating in locomotion. And there's an ant that we discovered is able, when it runs fast, to actually leave the ground. It has an aerial phase like a horse. And really surprising is a cockroach, which is an American cockroach. They go up to 50 body lengths a second, and when they do it, they become bipedal. The six-legged animal tips back and runs on its back two legs only."
Bob Full is one of the participants in the Kids' Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for third to sixth graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. Check out KidScienceChallenge.com. You've been listening to Pulse of the Planet. I'm Jim Metzner.