Most of you know that Coconuts are good for health but can coconuts save lives? Researchers from the University of Freiburg’s Plant Biomechanics Group in Germany are inspired by coconuts to find better ways of constructing buildings that are more resistant to earthquakes.
Coconut palms can grow up to 98 feet high (30 meters) and the coconut shell is extremely hard because it needs to protect the inner seed when it falls to the ground. The force it generates from falling that high is so great that it is known to have killed people when struck on the head by a falling coconut. The shell has to be made with something special to withstand such a high impact. With that in mind, how can we use this to our benefit?
The coconut shells have three layers. The outer exocarp (brown leathery part), a fibrous mesocarp, and a tough inner endocarp. Researchers are using compression machines and an impact pendulum to see how the protective layers disperse energy upon impact. They found that the inner layer (endocarp) was made up of a ladder-like vascular system that can withstand strong bending forces. Each cell is surrounded by several lignified rings joined together by parallel bridges (See photo below).
Plant biomechanist Dr. Stephanie Schmier said
“The endocarp seems to dissipate energy via crack deflection. This means that any newly developed cracks created by the impact don’t run directly through the hard shell”.
The angles in the vascular bundles help divert the trajectory of the cracks. So the longer a crack has to travel, the more likely it’ll stop before it gets too big. If the energy was concentrated on a single area it could cause major damage. Basically with this design, the energy is spread out so much that it runs out before it can do any major damage to the shell.
She also said:
“This combination of lightweight structuring with high energy dissipation capacity is of increasing interest to protect buildings against earthquakes, rock fall and other natural or man-made hazards”
If engineers and architects are able to use this knowledge and implement a similar design in concrete and building designs, we may be able to live in earthquake resistant homes in the future. This may mean safer homes and buildings that won’t collapse as easily but keep in mind that most injuries during earthquake are caused by falling objects like light fixtures, bookcases, tv’s, dishes, etc so it’s important to keep them secure.
Isn’t it amazing how nature already has all these things built in? These things have evolved over the years until they are near perfect. We should look more into nature to help us instead of re-inventing the wheel and struggling to create better ways ourselves.
Read more safety precautions you can take now to help earthquake proof your home.
Also make sure you know what to do during an earthquake as the wrong actions can cause injury.