Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Reinventing the wheel -- naturally

14.06.2010
Humans did not invent the wheel. Nature did.

While the evolution from the Neolithic solid stone wheel with a single hole for an axle to the sleek wheels of today's racing bikes can be seen as the result of human ingenuity, it also represents how animals, including humans, have come to move more efficiently and quicker over millions of years on Earth, according to a Duke University engineer.

Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, argues that just as the design of wheels became lighter with fewer spokes over time, and better at distributing the stresses of hitting the ground, animals have evolved as well to move better on Earth. In essence, over millions of years, animals such as humans developed the fewest "spokes," or legs, as the most efficient method for carrying an increasing body weight and height more easily.

"This prediction of how wheels should emerge in time is confirmed by the evolution of wheel technology," Bejan said. "For example, during the development of the carriage, solid disks were slowly replaced by wheels with tens of spokes."

The advantage of spokes is that they distribute stresses uniformly while being lighter and stronger than a solid wheel. "In contrast with the spoke, the solid wheel of antiquity was stressed unevenly, with a high concentration of stresses near the contact with the ground, and zero stresses on the upper side," Bejan said. "The wheel was large and heavy, and most of its volume did not support the load that the vehicle posed on the axle.

"If you view animal movement as a 'rolling' body, two legs, swinging back and forth, perform the same function of an entire wheel-rim assembly," Bejan said. "They also do it most efficiently – like one wheel with two spokes with the stresses flowing unobstructed and uniformly through each spoke. The animal body is both wheel and vehicle for horizontal movement."

Bejan's analysis was published early online in the American Journal of Physics. His research is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

"An animal leg is shaped like a column because it facilitates the flow of stresses between two points – like the foot and hip joint, or paw and shoulder," Bejan said. "In the example of the Neolithic stone wheel, the flow of stresses is between the ground and the whole wheel."

Bejan believes that the constructal theory of design in nature (www.constructal.org), which he started describing in 1996, predicts these changes in the wheel and animal movement. The theory states that for a design (an animal, a river basin) to persist in time, it must evolve to move more freely through its environment.

Since animal locomotion is basically a falling-forward process, Bejan argues that an increase in height predicts an increase in speed. For a centipede, each leg represents a point of contact with ground, which limits the upward movement of the animal. As animals have fewer contacts with ground, they can rise up higher with each stride.

"The constructal theory shows us this forward-falling movement is dictated by the natural wheel phenomenon, which is required for the minimal amount of effort expended for a certain distance traveled," Bejan said.

An earlier analysis by Bejan showed that larger human swimmers are faster because the wave they create while swimming is larger and thus carries them forward faster.

While wheel-like movement evolved naturally, it also describes what Bejan likes to call "nature's gear box." Humans have two basic speeds, Bejan said – walking and running. A running human gets taller, or higher off the ground, with each stride, which increases his speed.

A horse has three speeds – walk, trot and gallop.

"The horse increases its speed by increasing the height from which it falls during each cycle," Bejan said. "Then, from the trot to the gallop, the body movement changes abruptly such that the height of jump increases stepwise for each stride. Nature developed not only wheel-like movement but also mechanisms for changing speeds."

Richard Merritt | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.duke.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Hope to discover sure signs of life on Mars? New research says look for the element vanadium
22.09.2017 | University of Kansas

nachricht Calculating quietness
22.09.2017 | Forschungszentrum MATHEON ECMath

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

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

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

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...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

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...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>