Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Force


Jointed exoskeletons permit rapid appendage-driven locomotion but retain the soft-bodied, shape-changing ability to explore confined environments. We challenged cockroaches with horizontal crevices smaller than a quarter of their standing body height. Cockroaches rapidly traversed crevices in 300-800 ms by compressing their body 40-60%. High-speed videography revealed crevice negotiation to be a complex, discontinuous maneuver. After traversing horizontal crevices to enter a vertically confined space, cockroaches crawled at velocities approaching 60 cm⋅s(-1), despite body compression and postural changes. Running velocity, stride length, and stride period only decreased at the smallest crevice height (4 mm), whereas slipping and the probability of zigzag paths increased. To explain confined-space running performance limits, we altered ceiling and ground friction. Increased ceiling friction decreased velocity by decreasing stride length and increasing slipping. Increased ground friction resulted in velocity and stride length attaining a maximum at intermediate friction levels. These data support a model of an unexplored mode of locomotion-“body-friction legged crawling” with body drag, friction-dominated leg thrust, but no media flow as in air, water, or sand. To define the limits of body compression in confined spaces, we conducted dynamic compressive cycle tests on living animals. Exoskeletal strength allowed cockroaches to withstand forces 300 times body weight when traversing the smallest crevices and up to nearly 900 times body weight without injury. Cockroach exoskeletons provided biological inspiration for the manufacture of an origami-style, soft, legged robot that can locomote rapidly in both open and confined spaces.

Concepts: Mass, Human height, Force, Space, Velocity, Height, Terrestrial locomotion, Crawling


Balance arises from the interplay of external forces acting on the body and internally generated movements. Many animal bodies are inherently unstable, necessitating corrective locomotion to maintain stability. Understanding how developing animals come to balance remains a challenge. Here we study the interplay among environment, sensation, and action as balance develops in larval zebrafish. We first model the physical forces that challenge underwater balance and experimentally confirm that larvae are subject to constant destabilization. Larvae propel in swim bouts that, we find, tend to stabilize the body. We confirm the relationship between locomotion and balance by changing larval body composition, exacerbating instability and eliciting more frequent swimming. Intriguingly, developing zebrafish come to control the initiation of locomotion, swimming preferentially when unstable, thus restoring preferred postures. To test the sufficiency of locomotor-driven stabilization and the developing control of movement timing, we incorporate both into a generative model of swimming. Simulated larvae recapitulate observed postures and movement timing across early development, but only when locomotor-driven stabilization and control of movement initiation are both utilized. We conclude the ability to move when unstable is the key developmental improvement to balance in larval zebrafish. Our work informs how emerging sensorimotor ability comes to impact how and why animals move when they do.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Fish, Force, Centrifugation, Stability, Instability


The quest to ‘forward-engineer’ and fabricate biological machines remains a grand challenge. Towards this end, we have fabricated locomotive “bio-bots” from hydrogels and cardiomyocytes using a 3D printer. The multi-material bio-bot consisted of a ‘biological bimorph’ cantilever structure as the actuator to power the bio-bot, and a base structure to define the asymmetric shape for locomotion. The cantilever structure was seeded with a sheet of contractile cardiomyocytes. We evaluated the locomotive mechanisms of several designs of bio-bots by changing the cantilever thickness. The bio-bot that demonstrated the most efficient mechanism of locomotion maximized the use of contractile forces for overcoming friction of the supporting leg, while preventing backward movement of the actuating leg upon relaxation. The maximum recorded velocity of the bio-bot was ~236 µm s(-1), with an average displacement per power stroke of ~354 µm and average beating frequency of ~1.5 Hz.

Concepts: Force, Velocity, Cylinder, Walking, Cantilever, Locomotion, Quest, Bore


Here we show that constructal-law physics unifies the design of animate and inanimate movement by requiring that larger bodies move farther, and their movement on the landscape last longer. The life span of mammals must scale as the body mass (M) raised to the power ¼, and the distance traveled during the lifetime must increase with body size. The same size effect on life span and distance traveled holds for the other flows that move mass on earth: atmospheric and oceanic jets and plumes, river basins, animals and human operated vehicles. The physics is the same for all flow systems on the landscape: the scaling rules of “design” are expressions of the natural tendency of all flow systems to generate designs that facilitate flow access. This natural tendency is the constructal law of design and evolution in nature. Larger bodies are more efficient movers of mass on the landscape.

Concepts: Evolution, Life, Physics, Mass, Force, Effect size, Nature, Geomorphology


Tree frogs climb smooth surfaces utilising capillary forces arising from an air-fluid interface around their toe pads, whereas torrent frogs are able to climb in wet environments near waterfalls where the integrity of the meniscus is at risk. This study compares the adhesive capabilities of a torrent frog to a tree frog, investigating possible adaptations for adhesion under wet conditions. We challenged both frog species to cling to a platform which could be tilted from the horizontal to an upside-down orientation, testing the frogs on different levels of roughness and water flow. On dry, smooth surfaces, both frog species stayed attached to overhanging slopes equally well. In contrast, under both low and high flow rate conditions, the torrent frogs performed significantly better, even adhering under conditions where their toe pads were submerged in water, abolishing the meniscus that underlies capillarity. Using a transparent platform where areas of contact are illuminated, we measured the contact area of frogs during platform rotation under dry conditions. Both frog species not only used the contact area of their pads to adhere, but also large parts of their belly and thigh skin. In the tree frogs, the belly and thighs often detached on steeper slopes, whereas the torrent frogs increased the use of these areas as the slope angle increased. Probing small areas of the different skin parts with a force transducer revealed that forces declined significantly in wet conditions, with only minor differences between the frog species. The superior abilities of the torrent frogs were thus due to the large contact area they used on steep, overhanging surfaces. SEM images revealed slightly elongated cells in the periphery of the toe pads in the torrent frogs, with straightened channels in between them which could facilitate drainage of excess fluid underneath the pad.

Concepts: Force, Slope, Frog, Frogs, Capillary action, Tree frog, Torrent frog, Dionysus


To explore whether work schedules and physically demanding work were associated with markers of ovarian reserve and response.

Concepts: Energy, Thermodynamics, Force, Gynecology


SignificanceThe goal of this study was to use the Surface Forces Apparatus to examine the effects of slip-stick friction on cartilage surface morphology under different loading and sliding conditions. Different load and speed regimes were represented using friction maps that separated regimes of smooth and stick-slip sliding. The finding of this work is that damage generally occurs within the stick-slip regimes and is not directly related to the friction coefficient. Prolonged exposure of cartilage surfaces to stick-slip sliding resulted in a significant increase of surface roughness, indicative of severe morphological changes (damage) of the cartilage surfaces.

Concepts: Force, Classical mechanics, Friction, Road, Tribology, Roughness, Normal force, Stick-slip phenomenon


Spin-transfer torques offer great promise for the development of spin-based devices. The effects of spin-transfer torques are typically analysed in terms of adiabatic and non-adiabatic contributions. Currently, a comprehensive interpretation of the non-adiabatic term remains elusive, with suggestions that it may arise from universal effects related to dissipation processes in spin dynamics, while other studies indicate a strong influence from the symmetry of magnetization gradients. Here we show that enhanced magnetic imaging under dynamic excitation can be used to differentiate between non-adiabatic spin-torque and extraneous influences. We combine Lorentz microscopy with gigahertz excitations to map the orbit of a magnetic vortex core with <5 nm resolution. Imaging of the gyrotropic motion reveals subtle changes in the ellipticity, amplitude and tilt of the orbit as the vortex is driven through resonance, providing a robust method to determine the non-adiabatic spin torque parameter β=0.15±0.02 with unprecedented precision, independent of external effects.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Angular momentum, Fundamental physics concepts, Torque, Magnetism, Magnetic moment, Force, Sound


An object in outer space is weightless due to the absence of gravity, but astronauts can still judge whether one object is heavier than another one by accelerating the object. How heavy an object feels depends on the exploration mode: an object is perceived as heavier when holding it against the pull of gravity than when accelerating it. At the same time, perceiving an object’s size influences the percept: small objects feel heavier than large objects with the same mass (size-weight illusion). Does this effect depend on perception of the pull of gravity? To answer this question, objects were suspended from a long wire and participants were asked to push an object and rate its heaviness. This way the contribution of gravitational forces on the percept was minimised. Our results show that weight is not at all necessary for the illusion because the size-weight illusion occurred without perception of weight. The magnitude of the illusion was independent of whether inertial or gravitational forces were perceived. We conclude that the size-weight illusion does not depend on prior knowledge about weights of object, but instead on a more general knowledge about the mass of objects, independent of the contribution of gravity. Consequently, the size-weight illusion will have the same magnitude on Earth as it should have on the Moon or even under conditions of weightlessness.

Concepts: General relativity, Cognition, Force, Space, Gravitation, Classical mechanics, Weightlessness, Weight


Friction characteristics with respect to surface topographic orientation were investigated using surfaces of different materials and fabricated with grooves of different scales. Scratching friction tests were conducted using a nano-indentation-scratching system with the tip motion parallel or perpendicular to the groove orientation. Similar friction anisotropy trends were observed for all the surfaces studied, which are (1) under a light load and for surfaces with narrow grooves, the tip motion parallel to the grooves offers higher friction coefficients than does that perpendicular to them, (2) otherwise, equal or lower friction coefficients are found under this motion. The influences of groove size relative to the diameter of the mating tip (as a representative asperity), surface contact stiffness, contact area, and the characteristic stiction length are discussed. The appearance of this friction anisotropy is independent of material; however, the boundary and the point of trend transition depend on material properties.

Concepts: Force, Materials science, Orientation, Classical mechanics, Surface, Young's modulus, Friction, Tribology