Feathers: Better than Velcro?

ScienceDaily | 1/16/2019 | Staff
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That "magical" zipping mechanism could provide a model for new adhesives and new aerospace materials, according to engineers at the University of California San Diego. They detail their findings in the Jan. 16 issue of Science Advances in a paper titled "Scaling of bird wings and feathers for efficient flight."

Researcher Tarah Sullivan, who earned a Ph.D. in materials science from the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, is the first in about two decades to take a detailed look at the general structure of bird feathers (without focusing on a specific species). She 3D-printed structures that mimic the feathers' vanes, barbs and barbules to better understand their properties -- for example, how the underside of a feather can capture air for lift, while the top of the feather can block air out when gravity needs to take over.

Sullivan - Barbules - Structures - Barbs - Micrometers

Sullivan found that barbules -- the smaller, hook-like structures that connect feather barbs -- are spaced within 8 to 16 micrometers of one another in all birds, from the hummingbird to the condor. This suggests that the spacing is an important property for flight.

"The first time I saw feather barbules under the microscope I was in awe of their design: intricate, beautiful and functional," she said. "As we studied feathers across many species it was amazing to find that despite the enormous differences in size of birds, barbules spacing was constant."

Sullivan - Structure - Development - Materials - Aerospace

Sullivan believes studying the vane-barb-barbule structure further could lead to the development of new materials for aerospace applications, and to new adhesives -- think Velcro and its barbs. She...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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