NEW YORK (CNN) – Scientists developing new materials are studying an unexpected source of strength: a beetle that can withstand being run over by a car.
Researchers from Purdue University and the University of California, Irvine have studied the aptly named diabolical iron beetle – Phloeodes diabolicus – to understand the secret behind its power.
“If you took any beetles and wanted to smash them with your finger, you could potentially kill them,” he told CNN.
But not the demon beetle. Pablo D. CNN. “A car’s tire is not enough to collapse.”
The The results are published in the journal Nature Wednesday.
Experts wanted to understand why, hoping to recreate this strength in building materials.
Using advanced microscopy, spectroscopy, and mechanical testing on site, the researchers identified the architectural designs within the creature’s exoskeleton.
Scientists have discovered that the supreme power of the Devil Iron Beetle lies in its shield. The insect has two “eletron” shields – used in flying beetles to spread their wings – that meet at a line called the suture that runs along its abdomen.
Zafateri explained that millions of years ago, most beetles circled. “This particular beetle, as part of the evolutionary process, is no longer flying,” he said.
Although the demon beetle does not use its own elton to fly, the elytra strands and connective sutures instead help distribute the applied force evenly throughout the insect’s body.
Zafateri explained that the thread works like a jigsaw puzzle, connecting the creature’s various exoskeleton blades in its abdomen, which lock to prevent itself from pulling out.
If the thread is broken, another protection mechanism also allows the blades to slowly deform. This prevents a sudden release of energy, which would otherwise sever the beetle’s neck.
Using steel plates, the team of researchers discovered that the creature could take an applied force of 150 newtons – about 39,000 times its own body weight – before its exoskeleton began to crack.
Scientists said a car tire would apply a force of about 100 newtons if it were driving over an insect on a dirt surface.
The team hopes that with a better understanding of how the beetle resists such force, they can develop tougher materials.
Zafateri told CNN that one of the critical problems in engineering is linking materials with different structures, for example, bonding aluminum and steel, in areas such as space.
For example, when building aircraft turbines, metals are often bonded to composite materials using mechanical anchors, which can add weight, cause stress and ultimately lead to features and corrosion in the structure.
“We have the materials. One of the engineering issues is how to deliver them,” said Zafateri.
“We can use these sutures – they show you the way the beetle does – to improve their stiffness,” he said.
“This is a good example of how nature uses this association,” he said. “Every time we look at nature, we learn something new.”
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