Mechanical properties of biological materials

Julian Vincent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It seems to me that the mechanical properties of biological materials are of interest to the engineer for 3 main reasons: What characteristics do they have? Why and how? How can we benefit from this information? The most versatile material is probably the cuticle of arthropods, which has to be skeleton, skin and sensor, providing support, flexibility, sensitivity, protection, waterproofing, absorption, locomotion, etc. In providing this it is impossible to separate structure and material properties. The properties (examples in parentheses) therefore have to be understood at the level of chemical bonding (epitaxy of chitin-protein interactions via silk-like conformations; incorporation of heavy metals), physical chemistry (control of stiffness achieved by control of water content), micro-morphology (fibre orientations; volume fractions), macromorphology (control of buckling by folding stiffeners) and function (wing foldings, mechanisms for drilling holes). The benefit comes from comparing the design philosophy of the arthropod with what we would do given our technical background and experience. These turn out to be very different (there's only a 10% overlap - by design or coincidence) suggesting that 90% of biological problem-solving remains to be explored and exploited. The last part of the talk will therefore be devoted to techniques of biomimetic datamining and how to organise biological information in a way which will aid creativity and innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6
Number of pages1
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Epitaxial growth
  • Physical chemistry
  • Morphology
  • Chitin
  • Proteins
  • Chemical bonds
  • Fiber reinforced materials
  • Stiffness
  • Biological materials
  • Mechanical properties


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