Plant Biomechanics and Biomimetics

Plant Biomechanics and Biomimetics

The group „Plant Biomechanics and Biomimetics“ was led by Ingo Burgert. The research group was aiming at unraveling the structure-function-relationships of plants mainly at the micro-and nanoscale. The major interest was to better understand the underlying mechanisms and principles that cause the excellent mechanical performance of plants.

Methods for micromechanical and (nano)structural characterization were utilized such as microtensile tests with home-made testing devices to examine mechanical properties of tissue and fibres as well as structural/chemical investigation techniques like Raman spectroscopy, X-ray scattering, Environmental Scanning Electron microscopy etc. Simultaneous mechanical and structural characterization, so called in-situ tests, was utilized to unravel deformation principles and molecular interactions at the nanoscale.

Structure and properties of various species, different tissue types as well as genetically/ chemically modified plants were analyzed and insight was gained on the fibre composite nature the cell walls and on the mechanical adaptation to environmental conditions.

The generation of stresses and plant movements were studied for various species. Underlying principles of stress generation in tension wood and compression wood were proposed. In terms of plant movements a focus was laid on non-living systems that deform upon moisture changes in the cell walls (e.g. ice plant seed capsules). The directed movements are achieved by a clever structuring and do function without metabolism which turns the dead tissues into responsive and active devices.

An approach, to be further developed, was the biomimetic transfer of the observed mechanisms and principles to technical applications. Here first steps were made towards transferring principles of the molecular assembly in plant cell wall to glassfibre composites for making them tougher and less fragile under dynamical loads.    

From October 1st, 2011 Ingo Burgert will have a professorship on Wood Materials Science at the ETH Zurich.

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