Writing in January's Physics World, Dr Roland Ennos, a biomechanic in the Faculty of Life Sciences at University of Manchester, explains how we need to look beyond obvious answers if we are to understand how our own bodies work.
Explaining why we swing our arms, why we have notched teeth, why our fingernails always break in the same direction, and, still puzzling, why we have fingerprints, Dr Ennos shows how rich the boundary between biology and physics is in, some counter-intuitive but, potentially significant discoveries.
On the fingerprint puzzle, we know that fingerprints are useful to identify people for security and crime detection, but no scientist has ever suggested that fingerprints evolved specifically for this purpose. It has been thought that fingerprints help us to grip more tightly to objects, but tests show that a rough surface does not actually increase the friction of soft materials such as skin.
Fingerprint friction is therefore a mystery that has left Dr Ennos's team testing a number of options - it could be that fingerprints act like the treads on tyres, removing water and so increasing friction under wet conditions. Another possibility is that prints also make the skin more flexible and stop it blistering.
As Dr Ennos writes, "The answers to these questions may appear obvious or even trivial, but further thought and experiment is revealing that our world is far more fascinating than we could have dreamed."
What's more, this sort of research, unlike many areas of physics, is not expensive or mathematically hard. "All you need is an enquiring mind, a bit of ingenuity and the courage to ask awkward questions," concludes Dr Ennos.
Joe Winters | EurekAlert!
MEMS chips get metatlenses
21.02.2018 | American Institute of Physics
International team publishes roadmap to enhance radioresistance for space colonization
21.02.2018 | Biogerontology Research Foundation
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
21.02.2018 | Life Sciences
21.02.2018 | Life Sciences
21.02.2018 | Materials Sciences