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Airdate: Nov 04, 2015
Scientist: Nicole Abaid

Bats - Cave Research

Bats - Cave Research
Smell the guano, site the bat trajectories with infared light, it's all in a day's work deep inside a bat cave in China.

Transcript:
Bats - Cave Research

Ambience: Bats in cave (hi-pitched squeaks)
Swarming bats don't seem to bump into each other. To discover why, scientists have to go to the where the bats live in caves. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Abaid: Right now I'm in this cave in a really big cavern maybe 70 feet high. Hear bats at the top. It's really dark. Where I am it's cool, a breeze comes all the way through the mountain. You can definitely also smell the guano.

That's mechanical engineer Nicole Abaid, inside a bat cave in China's Shandong Province.

Abaid: The work in the cave is to record the bat flight trajectories and the acoustic signature that they make as they leave the cave. So, we want to understand how they fly together and how they fly around obstacles together. So, the way that we record that is that one of my students made a camera setup using six GoPro cameras that he modified to use infrared light, which the bats can't see. So, we have infrared LED arrays that we illuminate the cave with, and infrared light is below red light, so we actually can't see it. So, we sit in the dark, and we hope that we illuminated the cave correctly.

Abaid: We get to actually reconstruct the three dimensional structures of the bats so we can see when two bats are flying close to each other, the plan is to use some mechanical techniques to try and understand whether their motions are independent of each other or whether when the guy in front goes left and the guy in back also goes left or goes right in response.
So, when we're done, we'll have the trajectories of all of the bats as they fly through the volume that we record. What we hope to learn from that may be, number one, parameters that we could put into the model to try and understand those forces that we use to model, for example, how they don't bump into each other.

Nicole Abaid's findings could lead to new kinds of sonar and ways to prevent collisions in aircraft, automobiles and other modes of transportation. Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by Virginia Tech, inventing the future through a hands-on approach to education and research.