Sometimes, science tells us things we already know. But, presumably, only a few researchers suspected that "bash-proof" woodpecker brains would be so useful in crafting the gadget-protecting shock absorbers of the future. These tiny birds, if you recall, drum their bills against the tree as many as twenty-two times per second. Naturally, if a human did the same, this would result in severe brain damage.
But, courtesy of UC Berekley researchers Sang-Hee Yoon and Sungmin Park, we now know what, exactly, allows woodpeckers to function as living pneumatic drills. These properties, according to New Scientist's Paul Marks, include the woodpecker's "hard-but-elastic beak; a sinewy, springy tongue-supporting structure that extends behind the skull called the hyoid; an area of spongy bone in its skull; and the way the skull and cerebrospinal fluid interact to suppress vibration."
While the brain composition of woodpeckers is quite interesting (infographic here), the potential applications of the finding are more so. Yoon and Park made a metal woodpecker-inspired mock-up where "rubber represented the supportive and slightly-elastic nature of the hyoid bone, while aluminum mimicked the brain-skull fluid," noted Discovery magazine. After the miniature woodpecker mock-up was completed and tested (it was placed inside a bullet and fired at an aluminum wall), they found out that it was a pretty effective shock absorber.
So good of an absorber, in fact, that it might be seen in plenty of future technologies, notes Marks: "As well as a possible role protecting flight recorder electronics, the shock absorber could also be used in 'bunker-busting' bombs, as well as for protecting spacecraft from collisions with micrometeorites and space debris. It could also be used to protect electronics in cars."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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