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The Mechanics behind the Bird’s Nest

The natural Engineering. The bird’s nest is able to achieve cohesion and flexibility through the interweaving between rods with bends when they come into contact.

Simulations and experiments explain the unique character of this structure’s springiness.

The bird’s nest is a natural engineering marvel A jumble of rods with flexible ends that is weaved into a material that is light and elastic, yet incredibly strong. Researchers from a team have utilized x-ray imaging and computer simulations to understand the way in which a nest-like arrangement of rods with a short length develops its peculiar response to mechanical stresses. They have discovered that both the tension between the strands and their distribution points of contact of the strands are crucial in determining the properties of a nest. Understanding these variables could assist efforts to utilize nest-like packing of rods in the architecture.

A bird’s nest is a Granular material that is midway between a random pack of small grains, similar to rice and a knot of fibers that are stiff, such as hair. Granular media comprised of rod-like, short particles have been investigated previously however, little attention has been paid to rods that are long enough to stretch and weave having length-to-width (aspect) ratios of many Tens.

Prior to that, Mattia Gazzola of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Hunter King of the University of Akron, Ohio as well as their colleagues have looked into how mechanical characteristics are affected by random packed of bamboo rods with a shorter length, that were poured into a transparent cylinder that is compressed by an elongated top plate that resembles a piston.

They discovered that this rod assembly is able to spring back to a greater or lesser its original size when the plate’s pressure is let go. However, it does this in a non-linear fashion, the deformation (strain) is not just proportional to the amount of stress. The stress-strain curve during compression does not exactly match that of release. Both curves begin and end in the same locations, but follow different routes, creating the loop. The same behavior has been observed in the compacting of spheroidal particles with low aspect ratios.

The nest is pressed. The researchers studied the mechanical properties of random packings made of bamboo rods of varying lengths, encased inside a container when they were compressed by the piston (left). The researchers compared the experiment’s findings with simulations using the same mechanism (right).

The hysteresis loop indicates that, during compression it is not only stored through the rods’ elastic bending there is also loss of frictional heat when the rods move across each other, the amount of which is proportional to the size of the area that is enclosed by the loop. Researchers noticed similar qualitative results through computer simulations.

To understand the nature of this behavior Gazzola and his colleagues have applied computer-assisted xray tomography for the creation of 3D map of contact points with the rods (which measure 76 millimeters long and have an aspect ratio of). The team was able to track the changes in these maps through the cycles of squeeze and release.

The results indicated that as compression increases the number of contacts on each rod increase. The contacts limit bending and thus the rods become stiffer as compression increases. This is the reason for the nonlinearity of the curves for stress and strain. They also looked at the friction and sliding of the rods’ contact points. There is asymmetry between the sliding of the rods when compression is occurring and release, due to the necessity in order to eliminate static friction first before the contact moves: at any point the contact point can be stuck by friction and is unable to move from its most stable condition. This asymmetry is what causes the loop of hysteresis.

A few architects are beginning to utilize nest-like geometrically entangled structures and King believes to “offering an explanation of the root of the simplest mechanical reactions is a first step towards adjusting the malleability, stiffness, or toughness of these structures.” King thinks “there is enormous potential to tune the aggregate properties of materials by altering small details of the components.”

Seth Fraden, a soft-matter scientist in Brandeis University in Massachusetts, states that in the bird’s nests “there are clearly significant engineering principles in play and it’s our duty to be able to recognize these.” The work according to him, “is an important first step” towards that end. He is pleased with the results of the experiments and simulations, however he observes that real nests do not have a limit set by a container. Therefore, the connection of these experiments to the natural world isn’t clear. Heinrich Jaeger of the University of Chicago who is an expert in granular media, concurs with the findings, pointing out that the small dimensions of the structure suggests that the behavior could be strongly dependent on interactions with rods and the wall of the container.

King acknowledges that the walls create an effect, however, his team are studying how the structure’s characteristics alter with the size, and hopes that they can eventually extend these properties to create for an “infinite nest” with no need to be protected of boundary effects. King says it is yet to be determined how a construction such as self-supporting. It could be based on the particulars of the packing process. the author says that nest-building birds “are well-known to bend and insert sticks that protrude from the nest’s edges that is being constructed, which could possibly lead to self-supporting structures.”

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