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Flight of the Bumblebee

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Author:Ivars Peterson (MathLand)
Description: How did proving that a bumblebee can't fly originate? Who started the story? It apparently first surfaced in Germany in the 1930s, and the story was about a prominent Swiss aerodynamicist. One evening, the researcher happened to be talking to a biologist at dinner, who asked about the flight of bees. To answer the biologist's query, the Swiss engineer did a quick "back-of-the-napkin" calculation... Unfortunately, the wrong lesson emerged from the story. The real issue is not that scientists are wrong but that there's a crucial difference between a thing and a mathematical model of the thing... a certain simple mathematical model wasn't adequate or appropriate for describing the flight of a bumblebee.

Levels: High School (9-12)
Languages: English
Resource Types: Articles
Math Topics: Engineering, Animal Biology

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