Clive Thompson's got a fascinating rumination on what a revelation about the composition of the Humboldt squid's razor-sharp beak means for materials science:
There are many weird things about the giant Humboldt squid, but here’s one of the strangest: Its beak. The squid’s beak is one of the hardest organic substances in existence – such that the sharp point can slice through a fish or whale like a Ginsu knife. Yet the beak is attached to squid flesh that itself is the texture of jello. How precisely does a gelatinous animal safely wield such a razor-sharp weapon? Why doesn’t it just sort of, y’know, rip off? It’s as if you tried to carve a roast with a knife that doesn’t have a handle: It would cut into your fingers as much as the roast.
The Humboldt squid beak: Diamond-sharp mystery of the briny deep
This question has haunted many a marine biologist. So recently a team of materials scientists at the University of California decided to carefully examine the physical properties of the beak. Their discovery? The beak contains a huge gradation of stiffness: The tip of the beak is 100 times more rigid than the base of the beak – so the base can blend easily with the surrounding flesh. Water is the key to the proper functioning of this gradient: If the beak is dried out, the soft base calcifies until it’s nearly as dense and rigid as the peak. (You can read their paper – “The Transition from Stiff to Compliant Materials in Squid Beaks” in PDF format here.)
Now the scientists are trying to figure out how to artificially replicate this remarkable gradient, because it’s so radically different from the way we humans traditionally develop materials. We know how to create materials that are really stiff or really soft, but not ones that slide gradually from one to the other extreme.
That point of light between Saturn’s rings is Earth, captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on April 12. More about the image here at NASA JPL. It reminds me of the last photo taken by the Voyager I spacecraft before engineers shut off its imaging systems. Carl Sagan had persuaded NASA to turn Voyager I’s cameras […]
As AI improves, the mystery of consciousness interests more programmers and physicists.
Most of us need a computer interface implanted in our brains like we need a hole in our head. That said, there are benefits to bridging the gap between mind and machine. Joel Murphy is the founder of OpenBCI, an inexpensive, and non-invasive, brain-computer interface (BCI) platform. People have used OpenBCI to control robots, compose […]
They probably just sleep a lot. But still, you can remotely keep an eye on them when you’re at work and missing them deeply with this HD monitor from Kodak.If you have a new puppy that destroys everything in sight, or you just want to be a little more security-conscious, this WiFi camera is a […]
Thinking of a business idea is the easy part. Doesn’t even have to be a “good” idea, you can still get people to throw money at a non-existent venture, but to do that you need to at least have something even resembling a viable business plan. Why doesn’t anyone do it then? Because building that semi-viable […]
The Twisty Glass Blunt is an intriguing product that claims to abolish the need to ever buy or use rolling papers. And, well, it does if you so choose. You can cut down on the waste this 4/20, and everyday after when you’re smoking with this clever piece.Built with a German-engineered glass tube and inner […]