Sponges, Skyscrapers, and Bridges

Sponges, Skyscrapers and Bridges
Venus’ Flower Basket Sponge

As we have said many times, examining design in the natural world can lead to solutions for human problems. We have mentioned that Velcro came about by studying burdock plant seeds. Spider webs have taught us how to make stronger fibers. Now there is a connection between sponges, skyscrapers, and bridges.

Researchers at Harvard University and the National Science Foundation have published the results of the study of a sponge called Venus’ Flower Basket (Euplectella aspergillum). It’s a deep water glass sponge that has a lot to teach engineers about building bridges and skyscrapers.

This sponge employs two sets of parallel diagonal skeletal struts that intersect and are fused to an underlying square grid creating a checkerboard-like pattern. Research shows that this design has a significantly higher strength-to-weight ratio than the traditional lattice designs used to construct buildings and bridges for centuries.

Matheus Fernandes, who is the first author of the research paper, says, “We found that the sponge’s diagonal reinforcement strategy achieves the highest buckling resistance for a given amount of material, which means we can build stronger and more resilient structures by rearranging existing material in the structure.”

These sponges have used this structure from the beginning of life on Earth. Peter Anderson, a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Materials Research, says, “The structures of marine sponges inspire not only skyscrapers and bridges, but have the potential to accelerate the discovery and development of lightweight, porous materials with superior mechanical properties.”

Romans 1:20 speaks of being able to see God’s wisdom and design “from the creation of the world.” From burdocks and Velcro to sponges, skyscrapers, and bridges, wherever we look in nature, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: nsf.gov

Problems Facing Humanity Today

Problems Facing Humanity Today and Gold Nanoparticles
Gold Nanoparticles Illustration

It is no secret that there are many problems facing humanity today. Doomsday scenarios are all over the web, and they show up in serious scientific writings as well.

The October 2020 issue of Science News carried a feature titled “Scientists to Watch.” As you read through the descriptions of what outstanding scientific minds are doing, you see a great deal of hope for solutions to some of our physical problems. I find it interesting that the researchers are using natural materials and processes that are already operational on a small level in the world around us.

Spider webs are one example. Medical folklore promoted spider webs as a dressing for wounds. New research has shown that spider silk is coated with chemicals that promote blood clotting and prevent infection. Scientists are studying spider silk as a drug delivery system that can produce scaffolding for tissue repair.

Another exciting solution for humanity’s problems today is research showing that gold nanoparticles are a catalyst for converting carbon dioxide into methane and propane. When sunlight shines on the gold nanoparticles, it sets off a series of reactions that take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and produce hydrocarbon fuels. Researchers are also studying the natural process where gold and platinum nanoparticles liberate hydrogen from ammonia. This is useful because many industries need hydrogen for processes, such as fuel cell production.

So far, these processes are slow and inefficient, but speeding them up and making them efficient is the subject of research by today’s outstanding young scientists. God has given us the tools to clean the air, get plastic out of the oceans, and stop global warming. Science is recognizing the wisdom and design built into every corner of the world to solve the world’s physical problems. A more pressing need is getting people to look at the spiritual problems facing humanity today.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Slingshot Spiders and G Forces

Slingshot Spiders and G Forces
Slingshot Spider waiting for prey

Scientists have so far named around 35,000 species of spiders. Arachnids have been designed to survive in so many different ways that they keep biologists busy researching them. Just trying to understand all the different devices that spiders use to capture prey is a challenge. The National Science Foundation just announced a new study from researchers at Georgia Tech of a spider family known as slingshot spiders.

Scientists have known about slingshot spiders since the 1930s, but this is the first study of the kinematic energy, velocity, and acceleration of these Peruvian arachnids. They build a web and then stretch it with a piece of silk to create a three-dimensional spring. They store enough energy in that web spring to produce an acceleration 100 times that of a cheetah. The acceleration creates the force of roughly 130 G’s. That’s more than ten times what fighter pilots can withstand without blacking out.

Slingshot spiders make a web and a tension line as tools to catch their prey. When the target comes within striking distance, the spider releases the tension line and rides the web at ultrafast speed to capture it. This creates the fastest full-bodied motion of any spider. What’s more, it doesn’t involve muscles which frogs, crickets, or grasshoppers use to launch themselves. Every night, the spider creates this complex, three-dimensional spring with vastly more power and energy density than nanotubes or other synthetic materials created by humans.

Researchers are interested in the technique slingshot spiders use to store energy in web silk because engineers could use it to power tiny robots or similar devices. Once again, we have a situation where something found in nature can lead to new materials or processes for humans. When God designs something applying the engineering to make it work, we can study it and use the principles to create useful tools. The lesson of history is that the creation is full of wisdom and design that we can apply for our benefit.

— John N. Clayton © 2020