September 9, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Cheetahs Prosper with Rear-Wheel Drive

Learn about how cheetahs accelerate from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds, and other wonders of the living world.

Cheetah power:  The distribution of muscle fiber types in the rear legs and forelegs of the cheetah allows it to achieve its phenomenal acceleration and speed, the BBC News reported.  Type IIx fibers, built for speed, predominate in the rear legs, but Type I fibers, more resistant to fatigue, predominate in the front legs.  This allows the cheetah to gain explosive bursts of power on takeoff with its rear legs but decelerate and stand with its forelegs.  This is explained in the article based on a paper in Mammalian Biology.

Formation flight:  Airbus is aiming to flock like the birds.  PhysOrg reported on how the airline giant believes that formation flight will achieve fuel economy: “High frequency routes would allow aircraft to benefit from flying in formation like birds during cruise bringing efficiency improvements due to drag reduction and lower energy use.”  Might look kind of neat, too, to see a flock of airplanes in V-formation.

Effortless flight:  Wandering albatrosses can fly for many hours at a time with no effort, riding the wind without ever flapping their wings.  A paper in PLoS ONE explains how scientists are learning about the wandering albatross to imitate it with aircraft:

Albatrosses do something that no other birds are able to do: fly thousands of kilometres at no mechanical cost. This is possible because they use dynamic soaring, a flight mode that enables them to gain the energy required for flying from wind. Until now, the physical mechanisms of the energy gain in terms of the energy transfer from the wind to the bird were mostly unknown. Here we show that the energy gain is achieved by a dynamic flight manoeuvre consisting of a continually repeated up-down curve with optimal adjustment to the wind. We determined the energy obtained from the wind by analysing the measured trajectories of free flying birds using a new GPS-signal tracking method yielding a high precision. Our results reveal an evolutionary adaptation to an extreme environment, and may support recent biologically inspired research on robotic aircraft that might utilize albatrosses’ flight technique for engineless propulsion.

That was the only mention of evolution in the entire paper.

Egg physics:  You probably know from experience that the tip of a chicken egg is the hardest part to break.  According to Live Science, it took physicists at Oxford and MIT to find out why.  “We didn’t set out to understand the shape of an egg, it was just an inspiration,” one of the researchers said.  They learned that the sharper the egg (assuming constant thickness), the harder it is to crack.  It’s not easy to learn this from real eggs, which contain microcracks that can effect experiments, so they used silicone casts of eggs and computer models.  The knowledge gained from this kind of “biophysics” research may have practical applications in medical delivery vesicles and other container designs.

Spinach power:  Why re-invent the photosynthesis machine?  Scientists at Vanderbilt took spinach leaves and put them to work in solar cells.  At first, the orientations of the sun collectors canceled out the current. Then they found a way to align them, and boosted the current output by 1,000 times.  Their “biohybrid” solar cell, according to Science Daily, is not quite ready for production, but this experiment in literal “green energy” is moving along handsomely.  Popeye would be proud.

Everywhere you look, there are living things doing amazing things.  Who could not be thankful to live in such a varied, inspiring world?  The Apostle Paul wrote that one of the main reasons the Creator gave men over to a depraved mind was that they were not thankful (Romans 1:18-25).  Evolution is the ultimate thankless philosophy.  Instead of praising the engineering genius of the Creator, they smirk and say, “Stuff happens.”  The inventors flocking to biomimetics exemplify a kind of implicit gratitude; would that they would make it explicit.





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