Biomimetic Research Image 6
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Biomimetic Research (Image 6)

June 23, 2010
Biomimetic Research (Image 6) The surface of the toucan beak is made of layers of keratin "tiles" that are glued together. This discovery was made by Marc A. Meyers, a professor at the University of California, San Diego's, Jacobs School of Engineering. Meyers and graduate students Yasuaki Seki and Matthew S. Schneider discovered that the secret to the toucan beak's lightweight strength is an unusual bio-composite. Using donated toucan beaks from birds that had died of natural causes, Meyers' team analyzed the beaks' density, stiffness, hardness and response to compression and stretching. They also examined the beaks with a scanning electron microscope. The interior of the beak is rigid "foam" composed of bony fibers and drum-like membranes sandwiched between outer layers of keratin, the protein that makes up fingernails, hair and horn. Like a house covered by a shingled roof, the foam is covered with overlapping keratin tiles, each about 50 micrometers in diameter and 1 micrometer thick, which are glued together to produce sheets. Just as the hook-shaped barbs on cockleburs inspired the development of Velcro, Meyers said the avian bio-composite could inspire the design of ultra-light aircraft and vehicle components with synthetic foams made with metals and polymers. "The big surprise was our finding that the beak's sandwich structure also behaves as a high energy impact-absorption system," said Meyers. "Panels that mimic toucan beaks may offer better protection to motorists involved in crashes." This science-mimicking-biology is known as biomimetic research, and researchers at Jacobs are studying structural and functional designs of everything from mollusk shells and bird bills to sea urchin spines and other biocomposites in the development of new smart materials and devices. [This research was supported by the National Science Foundation] (Date of Image: 2005) [Image 6 of 8 related images. See Next Image .]

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