Which design principles unify the diversity of life on earth? To understand how biological designs emerged by natural selection, biomechanics studies organisms by applying engineering science and mechanics. Biomechanics studies life from molecules to ecosystems. Questions range ‘how do cells form tissue’, over ‘what shapes a muscle’ to ‘how do animals fly’ and ‘which mechanical constraints govern body shape and -dynamics when animals increase in size’. Biomechanics is applied not only to extant but also fossil organisms to reconstruct the way of life of extinct plants and animals.
Most biomechanists aim to unravel the building principles of nature by reverse engineering. But they also work in the opposite direction from biomechanical solutions to engineering designs. This field is known as biomimetics, and several examples are discussed in this issue. One famous example is George de Mestral’s invention of Velcro that was inspired by the cockleburs ingenious attachment mechanism. We are only beginning to exploit the rich source of stunning designs found in nature.
How to perform measurements in a hovering animal’s wake: Physical modelling of the vortex wake of the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta” (Tytell, E.D., and Ellington, C.P.)
How difficult is it to estimate forces on the wings of a flying insect or bird by measuring the airflow in its wake? Difficult, but not impossible, according to our study modelling the wake of a flying hawkmoth, and maybe easier on smaller animals. One of the major difficulties in studying animal flight has been that the wings often move too fast to make any useful measurements of the air flow around them. This is a sizeable problem, because insects and some small birds take advantage of a wide array of ‘high lift’ mechanisms that may be useful for future generations of flying machines. Rather than trying to make the difficult measurements around actual moving wings, most researchers have tried to deduce the forces on the wings from the airflow in the wake. While theoretically possible, this type of measurement had a setback in the ‘80s, when two studies on birds measured too little force to keep the animals aloft. Our study examines the feasibility of these measurements by studying the flow behind a highly simplified physical model of a hawkmoth. The trouble, it turns out, is turbulence. Large animals, including all but the smallest birds, produce wakes with substantial turbulence that causes the wake to loose strength rapidly, making it very difficult to back-calculate the forces around the wings. This back-calculation is not impossible, just difficult; but it is probably not feasible in a real experimental setup. Most insects, though, are small enough that their wakes are laminar, with smooth and even flow, which makes the wake strength stay constant for a long time. Our study shows that it is feasible to examine insects’ high lift mechanisms by observing the airflow in the wake behind them because of their laminar wakes.
Cyberkelp: An integrative approach to the modeling of flexible organisms (M. Denny and B. Hale)
Biomechanical models come in a variety of forms: conceptual models, physical models, and mathematical models (both of the sort written down on paper and the sort carried out on computers). There are model structures (such as the muscles that power insect flight muscle the tendons of rats’ tails), model organisms (such as the moth, Manduca sexta), even model systems of organisms (such as the communities that live on wave-swept rocky shores). These different types of models are typically employed separately, but their value often can be enhanced if their insights are combined. In this brief report we explore a particular example of such integration among models, as applied to a flexible marine alga, the giant bull kelp Nereocystis leutkeana. Because of these seaweeds’ large size and wave-swept habitat, it is difficult to make measurements on them directly. But because of their economic and ecological importance, it would be advantageous to understand how they work. A conceptual model (a submerged buoyant ball tethered to the seafloor by a rubbery string) serves as a template for the construction of a mathematical model of this model species of kelp. The validity of this numerical model is then tested in the laboratory using small physical models. The validated mathematical model is then used in conjunction with a computer-controlled testing apparatus to simulate the forces that would be placed on a real, full-size kelp in the ocean. This combination of models (what we call “cyberkelp”) allows us to experiment with a species that would otherwise be beyond our abilities.
Tim Watson | alfa
Two Group A Streptococcus genes linked to 'flesh-eating' bacterial infections
25.09.2017 | University of Maryland
Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden
At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.
Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
25.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.09.2017 | Health and Medicine
25.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy