Skip to main content
Email Print Share

Discovery Files - "Hum-Dinger"

Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio

Discovery Files - "Hum-Dinger"

Credit: NSF/Clear Channel Communications/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Watch the birdie!

I'm Bob Karson with "The Discovery Files" -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

The hummingbird has long fascinated us with its seemingly effortless ability to hover. The little hummers were even studied for design modifications during the invention of the helicopter.

Now, a new technique called digital particle imaging has shed light and debunked some long-held notions on just how they hover.

First, the air in a wind tunnel was seeded with microscopic particles of olive oil. Using laser light and a digital camera capturing images every 300 microseconds, researchers could, frame-by-frame, observe the particles individually around a hovering hummingbird. They came up with some new findings.

Hummingbirds don't fly like birds...nor do they fly like insects. They have a unique way of using their wings to move the air.

This technology will provide engineers with a refined model for developing future autonomous flying vehicles...and they won't be called, "hummers."

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.