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Evolution of feather biomechanics

From: Ben Creisler

A recent online publication:

Theagarten Lingham-Soliar (2013)
Feather structure, biomechanics and biomimetics: the incredible
lightness of being.
Journal of Ornithology (advance online publication)
DOI: 10.1007/s10336-013-1038-0

Millions of years of biological evolution have produced efficient
materials and structures that are a source of inspiration to
engineers. The paper reviews the overall design principles in the
feather rachis and elaborates upon recent functional interpretations.
It concentrates on recent findings that shed new light on feather
microstructure and on how keratin fibres in a protein matrix are
arranged in intricate ways to achieve specific combinations of
stiffness and strength on the one hand and flexibility and elasticity
on the other. This includes the syncitial barbule cells of the rachis
and barb cortex, the crossed-fibre architecture of the epicortex
(lateral walls of the cortex), and the foam-like structure of the
medullary pith. Discussion of the biomechanics of feather
microstructure uses engineering principles for a better understanding
of the functional ramifications. Further research is proposed with
respect to feather micro- and macrostructure in trying to expand our
knowledge on bird flight, behaviour and ecology in different species.
The discussion also considers the validity of a study purporting to
use quantitative methods and engineering principles to show that the
iconic fossil bird Archaeopteryx was incapable of flapping flight.