Professor Joachim Grenestedt collaborates with mechanical engineering students as they test their project in Lehigh labs.


The flight of a house fly offers a new perspective on zero gravity.

Amos Ambler '14 looks at the common house fly differently than most people. Where some people see a pest, Ambler sees promise.

In only his first year as a mechanical engineering student, Ambler is working with house flies to find the best methods of simulating flight. His research helped him and a team of five Lehigh students land a spot in NASA's Microgravity University, where they studied the flight trajectory of house flies in zero gravity.

"We wanted to look at the initial learning curve the house fly goes through as it experiences microgravity and how it modifies its flight trajectory to cope with the changing conditions," said Ambler, who collaborated with mechanical engineering professor Joachim Grenestedt.

The team spent time researching and testing the project in Lehigh engineering labs before heading to Houston. During their 11 days at NASA's Johnson Space Center they boarded a modified Boeing 727 airplane that provides simulated zero gravity for periods of 20-30 seconds at a time. While suspended in space, the team conducted an experiment to determine the flight trajectory of a fly when it's subjected to a loss of gravity.

"I think there's a night and day difference between reading about something and actually doing it," said Ambler, who describes zero gravity as the coolest feeling in the world. "I got so much out of my freshman year because I was actually applying everything I was learning about in my classes. I think that's really beneficial, and in the long run, it will be a tremendous help when it comes to my career."

It's not uncommon to find Ambler in the mechanical engineering building at 3 a.m. with fellow students. In preparation for their trip, Ambler and the team not only learned to design and build the models needed for their experiment, they also learned the intricacies of hatching 1,000 fly pupa.

"Lehigh always stood out to me as a school that encourages innovation," said Ambler. "It's really exciting to be around other people who share your interests and who are just as passionate about how things work as you are."