"The advantage, of course, of doing these experiments on the ground is it's a lot cheaper," lead author Richard Hill told Discovery News. "And we don't have to worry about any effects of the high g-forces launching the flies into space on a rocket."
Hill, a senior research fellow in the University of Nottingham's School of Physics and Astronomy, and his team used a very powerful superconducting magnet to levitate common fruit flies, so named because they're often seen buzzing around rotting fruit.
The flies were subjected to what's known as a diamagnetic force, created by the magnet. Diamagnetic materials, such as water, are pushed away by magnetic fields, so a really strong magnetic field can hold up flies, fish, frogs and so on, because these living things are mostly made up of water.
"If you have a magnet that is big enough, you could levitate a human," said Peter Main, a professor at the Institute of Physics who worked on the earlier studies.
The levitation occurs because living entities consist of millions and even billions of atoms, which contain electrons that move around a central nucleus. When they encounter a super strong magnet, as for the experiments, the electrons shift their orbits, giving the atoms their own magnetic field.