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From the bone of a horse, a new idea for aircraft structures

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The horse, a classic model of grace and speed on land, is now an unlikely source of inspiration for more efficient flight.

So says a group of University of Florida engineers who have recreated part of a unique bone in the horse's leg with an eye toward lighter, stronger materials for planes and spacecraft.

The third metacarpus bone in the horse's leg supports much of the force conveyed as the animal moves. One side of the cucumber-sized bone has a pea-sized hole where blood vessels enter the bone. Holes naturally weaken structures, causing them to break more easily than solid structures when pressure is applied. Yet while the third metacarpus does fracture, particularly in racehorses, it doesn't break near the hole - not even when the bone is subjected to laboratory stress tests.

UF engineering researchers think they've figured out why - and they've built and are testing a plate that mimics the bone's uncanny strength in a form potentially useful for airplanes and spacecraft.

"Holes are a classic source of failure in engineered structures, but nature has found a way around that in this bone," said Andrew Rapoff, an assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering and the lead researcher on the project. "We're mimicking nature's solution."

The researchers have published at least five papers on their work, which they've been conducting for three years with the assistance of a $675,000 NASA grant. Most recently, they were invited to submit a paper to a special issue of the Journal of Biomechanics to appear next year.

Airplanes have holes for wiring, fuel and hydraulic lines. Similar holes are common in boats, buildings, automobiles, homes and virtually any other structure that has functions beyond simply sheltering or containing something. Engineers typically compensate for the weaknesses caused by these holes by increasing the thickness of the material around them. In a classic example, ship builders add
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Contact: Andrew Rapoff
rapoff@ufl.edu
352-392-5523
University of Florida
2-Dec-2002


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