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article imageResearchers turn to sea sponges for building design

By Tim Sandle     Jan 9, 2017 in Science
Sea sponges seem to be unlikely creatures as to inform us about modern construction, yet researchers have been studying orange puffball sea sponges for inspiration. Of interest is how the sponges avoid buckling under water pressure.
An anatomical review of the sponges shows they contain rods, named strongyloxea spicules, which provide robustness to the sponges and help them to resist the high pressure of water at the bottom of the ocean. These rod-like structures are two millimeters long and are they are ultra-thin: thinner than a human hair. The rods are contained within the puffball’s body. Each rod is symmetrically tapered along its length. The thickness moves incrementally from being fatter in the middle to thinner at the ends.
Tethya aurantium, the golf ball sponge, or orange puffball sponge, is a species of demosponge (these make up four-fiths of the world's sponges; most demosponges are shaped like a rock). The sponges are found in the Mediterranean Sea, alongside rocky environments.
The sponges have been studied by Haneesh Kesari and Michael Monn, who are engineers at Brown University. Computer studies show the rods possess optimal resistance to buckling. The resistance is due to a compression load on each of the ends of the spicules. A further feature is by being fatter in the middle, the rods can resist bending in the middle. In the middle section the rods contain monolithic silica (similar to glass). Electron micrographs conformed shapes were remarkably.
The rods may provide a new structural blueprint for making everything from bicycle spokes, through building columns, to arterial stents required for surgery. Speaking with Controlled Environments Dr. Haneesh Kesari enthuses: "This is one of the rare examples that we're aware of where a natural structure is not just well-suited for a given function, but actually approaches a theoretical optimum.”
The researcher adds that the beautifully crafted structures within the sponges are so physically perfect, and yet so effective, that it is unlikely that a computer model could have come up with as an effective arrangement and structure. The next stage is to create 3D printed structures of the computer models for eventual use in bio-inspired engineering.
The findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports. The research is titled “A new structure-property connection in the skeletal elements of the marine sponge Tethya aurantia that guards against buckling instability.”
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