The article Exoskeletons: AFM Identification of Beetle Exocuticle: Bouligand Structure and Nanofiber Anisotropic Elastic Properties by Wei Gao, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is currently featured on the cover of Advanced Functional Materials – one of the top journals in materials research. In the piece, Gao and collaborators from Northwestern University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of California, Riverside, examined the design principles of helicoidal stacking in beetles.
“Beetles possess hard, armor-like exoskeletons, which protect them from predator attacks and environmental damage,” said Gao. “Meanwhile, these exoskeletons are surprisingly light to allow beetles to fly. The core region inside the exoskeletons is composed of chitin fibrils arranged in a helicoidal stacking, which is also known as twisted plywood structures. This helicoidal structure has been observed in insects, crustaceans, plants and fish.”
Gao explained that understanding the helicoidal structure design principles is expected to reveal insights into how natural selection over millions of years has shaped the material composition and spatial orientation, which is also important to guide the design and manufacturing of artificial materials through bio-mimicking.
“I was thrilled when I hear our article was going to be featured on the cover of Advanced Functional Materials,” said Gao. “It is wonderful that our research is getting such positive attention in the field.”
Gao, a former postdoc at Northwestern University, now Assistant Professor at UTSA is the co-first author of the paper along with Ruiguo Yang from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and graduate student Alireza Zaheri from Northwestern University. Cheryl Hayashi, professor of Biology at University of California, Riverside was also a co-author. Horacio Espinosa, professor of Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University led the research.