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Scientists Borrow a Trick or Two from a Beetle Tough Enough to Survive Getting Run Over by a Car



Engineers believe that they may be able to develop new and stronger materials by studying a beetle so though that even when it is run over by a car, it emerges unfazed.

The engineers hope to create a stiff material that is still as ductile as a paper clip. Something that might make aircraft gas turbines safer and durable.

Based at the University of California, Irvine, and Purdue University identified two ‘elytron’ that look like armor. The elytra meet along a suture that runs the length of the beetle’s abdomen.

The elytra protect the wings of flying beetles and make it possible for them to fly. But the bee in question is the wingless diabolical ironclad beetle that distributes any force applied on the beetle across the body of the beetle evenly.

Engineer Pablo Zavattjeri says that the suture is a connector of exoskeletal blades that meet like puzzle pieces beneath the elytra and in the abdomen.

This jigsaw puzzle formation may come in handy in several ways. Researchers led by David Kisailus, a UCI professor worked to understand the phenomenon better by studying CT scans to accurately observe the structural components of the beetle’s exoskeleton.

They found that the diabolical ironclad beetle is capable of withstanding a force 39,000 times its body weight without fracturing. The UCI researchers used compressive steel plates to test the strength of the beetle’s exoskeleton. This force is the equivalent of 150 newtons.

For perspective, consider that the force of a car tire running over the beetle on a dirt surface is only 100 newtons.

The bee is strong enough to handle more than double the force that other land beetles can handle.

Zavattieri’s laboratory extensively used computer simulations and created 3D-printed models to isolate some structures and understand the role they play preserving the beetle even under extreme pressure.

Together, these studies show that the diabolical ironclad beetle is armed with two lines of defense that protect it from compressive loads.

It has interconnecting blades that connect to avoid dislodging from the suture, much like the puzzle pieces that they are.

It also delaminates the suture and the blades deform more gracefully to allow the exoskeleton to hold under pressure.

Both of these crucial features work to distribute the energy and prevent a killer pressure on its vulnerable neck that would otherwise snap under the impact, killing the beetle.

When you apply excessive force to the diabolical ironclad beetle’s exoskeleton, the blades pull away from the suture gently, just enough to avoid a sudden release of energy that would cause its neck to slap. The blades cannot interlock too little or too much.

Scientists don’t know yet if the diabolical ironclad beetle has any self-healing mechanism following a traumatic incident such as getting run over by a car.

“An active engineering challenge is joining together different materials without limiting their ability to support loads. The diabolical ironclad beetle has strategies to circumvent these limitations,” revealed David Restrepo. Restrepo is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Aircraft gas turbines combine metals and composite materials using a mechanical fastener which makes the machinery heavier and brings in stress that makes it vulnerable to corrosion and fractures.

According to engineer Maryam Hosseini who was also part of the research group, these fasteners negatively impact the system’s performance and must be replaced often. In comparison, the diabolical ironclad beetle’s interfaced sutures are more predictable and robust. The humble beetle could hold the solution to these problems.

Researchers have already tried to mimic the suture of the diabolical ironclad beetle by building a carbon fiber composite fastener instead of the mechanical fastener that is currently in use.

The new fastener was tested by researchers at Purdue University and proved tougher than standard aerospace fasteners. It is equal in strength.

Engineers now know that it is possible to make a transition from strong and brittle materials to strong and tough materials that disperse energy like the diabolical ironclad beetle breaks.

The Airforce Office of Scientific Research as well as the ArmyResearch Office is funding this research through the Multi-University Research Initiative.

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Scientists Create the Most Detailed Atomic Image in History




Scientists at Cornell University are working with a unique technique to record images to a higher level of detail than ever achieved before. The result is the highest resolution atomic image ever created.

The researchers magnified a 3D sample of a crystal 100 million times. The resultant image has twice the image resolution.

It earned them a Guinness World Record in 2018. They are now to break their record.

The researchers used electron ptychography to shoot a billion electrons per second at a target material. The beam of electrons aimed at a surface consists of a billion electrons each second.

With the beam’s slow movement, the released electrons hit the target from a variety of angles. The electrons can either pass straight through or bounce off of atoms along their path before they exit.

According to David Muller who is a physicist at Cornell, ptychography is like a game of dodgeball with your opponents in darkness. In this game of dodgeball, distinct atoms are the targets and electrons are dodgeballs.

The advanced detectors allow Muller to ‘see’ the atoms by seeing where the electrons stop. The electrons generate a speckle pattern that algorithms use to calculate the original location of the atoms and their shape.

Scientists have used ptychography to photograph materials with a thickness of one atom. Now, this study shows that it could capture ten to a hundred layers of atoms and more. The study was published in the journal Science.

Material scientists can rely on the technique to learn about the properties of materials with a 30-50 nanometer thickness. This thickness is so small that your nails grow more than that in a minute.

“They can look at stacks of atoms now, so it’s amazing,” declares University of Sheffield engineer Andrew Maiden. Maiden was not part of the new study, but he participated in developing ptychography as a technique. “The resolution is just staggering.”

This new development is a breakthrough in electron microscopy. Electron microscopes came about in the 1930s. They made it possible for scientists to look at objects of interest, like viruses.

The poliovirus, for example, is smaller than a light wavelength. Electron microscopes cannot deliver higher resolutions without a corresponding increase in the electron beam’s energy. This would give rise to an electron microscope that utilized enough energy to damage the material.

Researchers theorized about ptychography in the sixties’ as a possible solution to the problem. But scientists could not apply the technique for decades because they were working with limited computational power and limited capacity detectors.

Earlier versions of ptychography used x-rays and visible light instead of electron beams for imaging atoms. At the time, scientists were looking for ways to make electron microscopes better and this was so effective that it superseded electron ptychography. According to Muller, only true believers in ptychography still paid attention.

The long-term impact of this work will be better electronics. Computers and phones will be more efficient as well as powerful. Batteries will last longer because scientists would study the chemical reactions in greater detail.

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Scientists Track Elephants with AI and Satellite Imaging




An international scientist team from Oxford University, Bath University, and Twente University from the Netherlands conducted a survey from space on elephant populations using artificial intelligence. The satellite cameras were successful together with deep learning algorithms that track African elephants’ movements.

In the last few decades, the African elephants’ movement population has plummeted thanks to loos of habitat and poaching. The species is now considered as endangered since only 50,000 are left in the wild.

Conservationists are currently monitoring the endangered populations and those under threat as the elephants by counting them using low-flying airplanes one-by-one.

In the study conducted by the team, an automated artificial intelligence system was created by a computer scientist, Dr. Olga Isupova, from Bath University, for analyzing the elephant’s high-resolution images as they crossed through grasslands and forests. A commercially-run Worldview-3 satellite for observing captured them. They found out that the system could pick out animals with similar accuracy as human analysts.

Combination of deep learning and satellite imagery previously used to identify marine animals, the elephants’ study marked the first time their technique was used to monitor animals as they moved through various heterogeneous landscape of woodland, scrub, and grassland. ”This type of work has been done before with whales, but of course, the ocean is all blue, so counting is a lot less challenging. As you can imagine, a heterogeneous landscape makes it much hard to identify animals,” said Dr. Isupova.

‘’Accurate monitoring is essential if we’re to save species. We need to know where the animals are and how many there are.’’

The team preferred running their pilot study with African elephants, for they are giant animals making it easy to spot.

The researchers, however, hoped their technology would succeed in the future to observe other species.

”Satellite imagery resolution increases every couple of years, and with every increase, we will be able to see smaller things in greater detail. Other researchers have managed to detect black albatross nests against snow,” said Dr. Isupova.

‘’No doubt the contrast of black and white made it easier, but that doesn’t change the fact that an albatross nest is one-eleventh the size of an elephant. We need to find new state-of-the-art systems to help researchers gather the data they need to save species under threat.’’

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Plastic ‘Spider’s Web’ Solution for Smashed Smartphone Screen




Researchers from Polytechnique Montreal Canada are creating the most effective protection so far for smartphone screen, inspired by a spider web.

The 3D printed spider web will make smartphone screens safer than ever before once it is implemented.

The research team from the Polytechnique Montreale in Canada used additive manufacturing to design the fabric which has shown that it can absorb 96% of the energy of an impact without losing its integrity.

The new innovation could pave the way for unbreakable plastic protection for a whole range of electronic devices that are prone to breaking.

The research team consists of Frederick Gosselin, Daniel Therriault, and Shibo Zou two of whom are professors and the third being a student at Polytechnique Montreal’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. The trio has proven that the plastic web could be used to protect a phone screen from shattering with the force of impact.

The researchers created t heir innovation with inspiration from a natural spider’s web.

“A spider web can resist the impact of an insect colliding with it, due to its capacity to deform via sacrificial links at the molecular level, within silk proteins themselves,” said Professor Gosselin. “We were inspired by this property in our approach.”

The researchers worked with a polycarbonate that develops a honey-like viscosity when heated to create the web. They used a 3D printer to weave together a web of the polycarbonate fibers. The weaving was done quickly, giving the web time to solidify after it had already been woven.

It is during the weaving process, that the product acquires its extraordinary strength. Upon impact, the web deforms at a molecular level instead of breaking. The plastic forms circles that turn into a chain of loops.

“Once hardened, these loops turn into sacrificial links that give the fibre additional strength. When impact occurs, those sacrificial links absorb energy and break to maintain the fibre’s overall integrity – similar to silk proteins,” Gosselin divulged.

Lead author Shibo Zou demonstrated just how the web functions within a protective screen. He implanted webs into resin plates and tested the phones’ resistance to impact and witnessed impressive results.

The plastic webs were successful in distributing as much as 96% of the impact energy while remaining intact. The plastic web will experience slight deformation instead of breaking. It retains its integrity.

Professor Gosselin says that the innovation could pave the way for other innovations, like better bullet-proof glass or longer lasting smartphone screens, or protective coats for engines of aircraft.

The possibilities are certainly exciting. In the meantime, the team continues with their research.

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