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Science is My Specialty Presents: Anita Brook Dupree
Mimicking Nature: Wopodpecker Heads and Bicycle Helmets
by Anita Brook Dupree
Have you noticed the shape of most bicycle helmets? There is a lot of science that goes into those helmets. They are designed to be aerodynamic and lightweight. They are also designed to protect the head if you should fall. Helmets have a hard outer shell and a softer inner lining. The hard outer part is designed to absorb the force of impact over a larger area, so as not to cause a concussion. The soft inner part is designed to absorb any energy that might occur upon impact.Interestingly, scientists are looking at the complex skulls of woodpeckers to figure out ways to make even better crash helmets for humans. A woodpecker strikes a tree about 1,200 times a day at a speed of about 14 miles per hour, and never sustains injury. Woodpeckers have four components that help them from getting concussions: an elastic layer supports the tongue, which stretches around the skull beneath the skin, their beaks are flexible, yet solid and strong, a spongy bone separates the woodpecker beak from the brain (in order to dampen the force of pecking), and there is a thin fluid-filled space between the skull and the brain (to minimize transfer of vibrations).Keeping in mind what they have learned from the woodpecker, scientists and industrial designers are suggesting utilizing components of the woodpecker head to come up with enhanced and safer ways to make helmets. One British industrial designer from London’s Royal College of Art, Anirudha Surabhi, has designed a super strong helmet he calls the Kranium that helps protect cyclists’ heads by mimicking features of the woodpecker’s anatomy. He has used an unlikely material for the inner liner of the helmet: a special dual density cardboard with a honeycomb structure. This material beat out other contenders in his laboratory trials. The cardboard inner liners are durable and quite easy to produce, and has its roots in the design of the woodpecker head.The Kranium helmet is now on the market and available for purchase for about $130.00. The next time you need a solution to a problem, the answer might just be in nature’s design. Check with Mother Nature first before you begin!