Biologically inspired head and eye protection materials and systems

Interdisciplinary Areas: Engineering and Healthcare/Medicine/Biology

Project Description

There is a strong demand for new paradigms of design and development of advanced solutions in high-performance protective equipment and technology that can lead to significant gains in head and eye protection for some common contact sports, vehicle accidents, construction work, etc. Materials and structures that can withstand the high forces generated during an impact need to have a combination of what is otherwise competing mechanical properties. Through millions of years of evolutionary process, Nature has come up with efficient materials and structures that often exhibit exceptional mechanical properties that do not follow the trade-offs of man-made materials. Woodpeckers and other head-bangers in Nature are clear examples of anatomical adaptations of resilient protective systems (through specialized beaks, bones, horns, etc.). In particular, woodpeckers peck at trees every day for about 15 years without showing any evidence of concussion in their brains and eyes. In woodpeckers, impact speeds reach 15 mph with decelerations up to 1,200 g’s (humans get concussion at 80 g’s) and pecking rates, around 20 Hz. This offers a unique opportunity to study the structure-function relationship between the morphology of the woodpecker head and its mechanical function against damage. The goal of this project is to answer the question: what is the role of the woodpecker skull in withstanding eye and brain concussions? This team involves a strong collaboration between an expert in birds (Department of Biological Sciences/College of Science) and a Material Engineer with the quest to evaluate the most important microstructural features of the woodpecker skull architecture and elucidate design guidelines for energy absorption structures. 

Start Date

January 2019

Postdoc Qualifications

Interrogating how Nature employs these strategies is a challenging task that requires (i) knowledge about the actual loading and environmental conditions of these structures in their natural habitat, (ii) characterization of their constituents and hierarchical architecture, and (iii) solving some interesting solid mechanics. 

Postdoctoral researchers with an engineering and/or more biological or biomedical profile are sought to join this cross-disciplinary team to apply biological and engineering concepts of bioinspiration and bio-exploration to identify and characterize key features of these structures to understand their mechanical behavior through the use of modern tools such as in-situ electron microscopy, small-scale mechanical testing capabilities analytical and numerical modeling, as well as clever additive/digital manufacturing methods. The postdoctoral researcher will perform research to understand some of the features of the woodpecker skull, beak, and hyoid bone that act as the main mechanisms to control internal stress and frequencies. 

More specifically, PhD in Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Biological, Biomedical, Aerospace Engineering, or closely related fields; with solid/structural Mechanics background. Experience with modeling and/or experiments is preferred. 


Prof. Pablo Zavattieri,, Lyles School of Civil Engineering,

Prof. Esteban Fernandez-Juricic, , Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science,
1. J. C. Weaver, G. W. Milliron, A. Miserez, K. Evans-Lutterodt, S. Herrera, I. Gallana, W. J. Mershon, B. Swanson, P. Zavattieri, E. DiMasi, and D. Kisailus, "The Stomatopod Dactyl Club: A Formidable Damage-Tolerant Biological Hammer", Science, 336 (no. 6086), pp. 1275-1280, June 2012

2. N. Guarín-Zapata, J.D. Gomez, N. Yaraghi, D. Kisailus, P.D. Zavattieri, "Shear Wave Filtering in Naturally-Occurring Bouligand Structures", Acta Biomaterialia, 23, pp. 11-20, 2015.23, pp. 11-20, 2015

3. N. Suksangpanya, N. A. Yaraghi, R. B. Pipes, D. Kisailus, P. Zavattieri, "Crack twisting and toughening strategies in Bouligand architectures" Int. J. Solids Structs. 2018

4. J.-Y. Jung, et. al, A natural damper on the head? Mechanical and functional evaluation of the woodpecker skull bones, submitted, 2018.