Thursday, March 3, 2011

Art and science

The painterly photo above (1st image) belies the fact that this post is about science, specifically botany and physics. The bladderwort is an aquatic plant that grows around the world. Like the Venus flytrap, it is carnivorous, and feeds itself by sucking small organisms - water fleas, nematodes, fish fry, mosquito larvae, and young tadpoles - into its traps (2nd image, magnified) triggered by bristles on the bottom of its opening. If their bladders are not triggered within a few hours, they fire shut automatically to grab what they can. Considered to have the most sophisticated carnivorous trapping mechanism to be found anywhere in the plant kingdom, the bladderwort has just been determined to snap shut with 600 Gs of force. To put this factor of acceleration and gravity in perspective, consider the following:

0 g - Flying in the "vomit comet"
1 g - Standing on the earth at sea level
3 g - Launching in the space shuttle
3.5-6.3 g - Riding a roller coaster
9-12 g - Turning in a fighter jet

The research at the Universite Grenoble in France was conducted using a camera that records up to 10,000 frames per second to determine how - and how quickly - the bladderwort performs this neat trick. Each trap creates a vacuum that "spring-loads" it and allows it to snap shut in half a millisecond - 200x the speed of a Venus flytrap closing around its unfortunate prey.

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