Marvels of Engineering in Nature

Marvels of Engineering in Nature - Honeycomb

In the creation, we see many patterns that are marvels of engineering. You might not think that shape of a structure is vital to the survival of living things, but it is. As we look more and more carefully at the design of natural things, the evidence shows us that they are not products of blind chance but designed for a purpose.

Considering materials science, the honeycomb design is an excellent place to start. The magnificent honeycomb design uses hexagons stacked into a lattice. Does that make a difference? The answer is a very strong “yes.” The honeycomb must hold a very heavy and dense liquid requiring careful weight distribution. If you designed a honeycomb in a rectangle or triangle pattern, the weight would be on the bottom of the holder, causing it to collapse. In the hexagon design, the weight is distributed in three directions, reducing stress on the bottom.

We see this hexagonal pattern in many areas in the natural world, such as columnar basalt in the structure called Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. As the original molten mass cooled, it contracted, and the structure’s shape relieved the gravity forces.

Using a scanning electron microscope, scientists studied common sea urchins (Paracentrotus lividus). They found that the point where their spines attach, called tubercules, have a mathematical pattern of polygons called a Voronoi pattern. The tubercules must withstand strong forces, and the Voronoi pattern provides strength in a lightweight skeletal structure. This pattern gives maximum strength to organic structures that must withstand significant stresses.

Researchers say this design allows sea urchins to withstand predator attacks and environmental stresses. Besides bees and sea urchins, dragonflies also benefit from Voronoi patterns. The scientists studying these marvels of engineering hope that they will “inspire new developments in materials science, aerospace, architecture, and construction.” We can learn much by studying the designs God has used in creation.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Science News for September 10, 2022, page 32, and Journal of the Royal Society Interface