PIVOT IN MID-AIR
Today's aircraft have nowhere near the agility and precision of nature's best fliers. "Bats are different from most animals-and from most engineered materials—because they have very flexible wings that offer a lot of interesting aerodynamic properties,"
says Kenny Breuer, a mechanical engineer at Brown University. Researchers at Syracuse University have created a material with a similar quality: The polymer chains line up to make it stiff and stable in one direction, but 12 times as elastic in the other. Five to 10 years from now, such a material could allow the wings of small unmanned aircraft to flap by expanding and contracting, which would enable planes to fly at slow speeds and pivot precisely during surveillance missions. -LA.