Dandelion Seeds Fly Using Extraordinary Method

Posted: Oct 19 2018, 7:38am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 19 2018, 7:42am CDT, in Latest Science News


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Dandelion Seeds Fly Using Extraordinary Method
Credit: Cathal Cummins

The new form of flight has never been observed in nature before.

Researchers have discovered a totally new form of natural flight thanks to dandelion flower. The common plant creates a ring-shaped bubble of air which keeps the seed aloft and enables it to travel long distances. This type of flight has never been observed in nature before.

The fluffy dandelion flower is known for its extraordinary flying ability. It uses parachute-shaped bundle of bristles to lift the seeds and carry them great distances often a kilometer or more. These seeds stay afloat entirely by the movement of the wind. However, the physics underpinning this flight remains unknown.

To find out, researchers from the University of Edinburgh carried out an experiment. They put dandelion seeds in a vertical wind tunnel and used a laser to illuminate particles. The experiment helped researchers visualize the airflow around the seed and led to the discovery of an extraordinary new type of vortex. The vortex was quite different from that of other wind-dispersed plants, such as maples.

Wind-dispersed plants and airplanes also form vortices or rings of circulating air. Those rings are created by flapping wings or wing-like surfaces and help maintain the forces that lift a machine or seed into the air. However, dandelion flight mainly involves empty space and researchers thought that an unattached vortex would not be stable enough to persist in nature.

But the new form of air bubble or circulating air in dandelion which researchers have named the separated vortex ring is precisely controlled by the spacing of the bristles. As air moves through the bristles, it keeps the bubble stable and enhances the drag that tends to slow each seed's descent. The mechanism is highly effective and might inspire the design of small drones or other air vehicles that require little or no power consumption.

“Taking a closer look at the ingenious structures in nature – like the dandelion's parachute – can reveal novel insights,” said lead author Dr. Cathal Cummins. “We found a natural solution for flight that minimizes the material and energy costs, which can be applied to engineering of sustainable technology.”

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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