News FocusPhysiology

Treading Air

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Science  28 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6016, pp. 396
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6016.396

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The wind tunnel at the University of Western Ontario in Canada is the centerpiece of a new building that includes indoor and outdoor aviaries, some of which have small pools of water for shorebirds and waterfowl, acoustic chambers, behavior-observation rooms, and environmental chambers for controlling light cycles, as well as temperature and humidity. Made of steel, two stories high and 12 meters long, the tunnel looks quite imposing. Birds fly in a 1-meter-high by 1.5-meter-wide octagonal Plexiglas cylinder, almost completely covered with blankets to discourage the birds from getting too close to the walls. Pressure, temperature, and humidity in the tunnel can all be modified to simulate different conditions, including high altitude. The tunnel also doubles as a studio for understanding the mechanics of bird flight.