Biomimetic materials

Biomimetic materials are an attempt to improve technology by looking at nature. It’s true that nature has come up with some of the strongest and lightest materials known. Natural materials often have an optimised design e.g. tree trunks, hedgehog spines, sea shells, spiders webs all of which have inspired people to attempt to replicate their performance.

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The structure of wood has inspired some composite designs to attempt to improve toughness

One major advantage of natural materials are made at ambient temperatures from water based solutions. This suggests it should be possible to make major energy savings if it is possible to use the materials directly or to copy natures manufacturing techniques techniques. There has also been a parallel interest to develop materials for use as electronic or optical devices which ‘self-assemble’ fine scale microstructures, to enable the production of materials with novel properties.

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The table above illustrates that wood can exhibit better specific moduli than other common engineering materials. This is demonstrated by the fact that wood is still used extensively in construction, especially in smaller buildings such as homes. In the UK although most buildings are brick rather than wood as in some other counties the structure to support the roof and floors is usually made from wood.

One omission from the table is that the specific moduli can be improved by changing the shape of engineering structures, a hollow tube made from steel or aluminium has a much superior specific stiffness than a solid rod (e.g. as used in bicycle frames). (i.e. engineers often have already found the same solutions as nature exhibits).

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Porcupine and hedgehogs have developed various solutions for quill structures.

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Honeycombe structures are a common solution for applications that need to be light and stiff.

The slides here are from a presention I made as an undergraduate which can be downloaded in full here:
Biomimetic materials presentation

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