It’s conventional in blogging to give an HT (hat tip) to a friend who makes you aware of a cool item.  Engineers are giving hat tips to plants and animals as they seek for amazing new products that do wonderful things, just like the ones in nature.

1.  Woodpecker helmets: As mentioned in our 10/27/2011 entry, scientists in China are learning how to make smarter helmets by studying woodpeckers.  The birds use a combination of features to avoid concussions.  Source: PhysOrg.

2.  Cornea hierarchical assembly:  An interesting paper in Nature last month discussed how scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs are making progress imitating life’s ability to construct strong, lightweight nanomaterials that self-assemble.  Here’s a teaser from the abstract:

In nature, helical macromolecules such as collagen, chitin and cellulose are critical to the morphogenesis and functionality of various hierarchically structured materials. During tissue formation, these chiralmacromolecules are secreted and undergo self-templating assembly, a process whereby multiple kinetic factors influence the assembly of the incoming building blocks to produce non-equilibrium structures. A single macromolecule can form diverse functional structures when self-templated under different conditions. Collagen type I, for instance, forms transparent corneal tissues from orthogonally aligned nematic fibres, distinctively coloured skin tissues from cholesteric phase fibre bundles, andmineralized tissues from hierarchically organized fibres. Nature’s self-templated materials surpass the functional and structural complexity achievable by current top-down and bottom-up fabrication methods.

That’s the front of your eye, the skin on the back of your hand, and teeth – all constructed by your body, using a method these scientists drool after.  “Here we demonstrate the biomimetic, self-templating assembly of chiral colloidal particles (M13 phage) into functional materials,” they boasted of their baby steps.  They had to start with viral particles that are already chiral, because it is very difficult to make chiral building blocks from scratch.  The abstract ended, “Our assembly approach provides insight into the complexities of hierarchical assembly in nature and could be expanded to other chiral molecules to engineer sophisticated functional helical-twisted structures.”  (Chung et al., “Biomimetic self-templating supramolecular structures,” Nature 478, 20 October 2011, pp. 364–368, doi:10.1038/nature10513)….

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