Meet Trichoplax adhaerens, a microscopic marine animal from one of the oldest known branches of the evolutionary tree. It looks like a microscopic cell sandwich: two layers of epithelial cells (which make up the surfaces of our organs), with a layer of fibre cells in between.
Recently, Nicholas Charles and researchers from Harvard published a study that used simulations of elastic fibers to probe their response to stretching and rotation applied simultaneously. The results shed light on how DNA, proteins, and other fibrous materials respond to forces and get their intricate shapes.
When an experiment doesn’t behave the way we expect, either our understanding of the relevant physics is flawed, or the phenomenon is more complicated than it appears. When a theoretical prediction is off by two orders of magnitude – like what was observed in this recent paper by Hua Yung Lo, Yuan Liu, and Lei Xu of the Chinese University of Hong Kong – something is seriously wrong.
Look inside a glass of milk. Still, smooth, and white. Now put a drop of that milk under a microscope. See? It’s not so smooth anymore. Fat globules and proteins dance around in random paths surrounded by water. Their dance—a type of movement called Brownian motion—is caused by collisions with water molecules that move around due to the thermal energy. This mixture of dancing particles in water is called a colloid.
If you were Spider-Man, how would you catch your criminals? You could tangle them up in different types of threads, but to really keep them from escaping you probably want your web to be sticky (not to mention the utility of sticky silk for swinging between buildings) …
Have you ever seen those wide shapes moving in the sky at dawn, made of thousands of starlings, or the swarms of fish swimming in the ocean (see Figure 1)? The ability to organize and move in groups without a leader is called collective motion and has been observed at various spatial scales in the living world, from birds to locusts, cells, and bacteria.
While many today would associate a “cloak of invisibility” with Harry Potter, the idea of a magical item that renders the wearer invisible is not a new one. In Ancient Greek, Hades was gifted a cap of invisibility in order to overthrow the Titans, whereas in Japanese folklore, Momotar? loots a straw-cloak of invisibility from an ogre, a story which is strangely similar to the English fairytale Jack the Giant-Slayer. Looking to the future in Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry imagined a terrible foe known as the Klingons, a war-driven race that could appear at any moment from behind their cloaking devices – indeed, any modern military would bite your arm off to get hold of this kind of device. Clearly, invisibility is a concept that has captured minds across many cultures, genres, and eras, so it should be no wonder that scientists are working on making it a reality.
Granular rearrangement and the deformation of beams under load are two well understood, but very different systems. What happens when you put them together?