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Reinventing the wheel -- naturally
Date:6/14/2010

Humans did not invent the wheel. Nature did.

While the evolution from the Neolithic solid stone wheel with a single hole for an axle to the sleek wheels of today's racing bikes can be seen as the result of human ingenuity, it also represents how animals, including humans, have come to move more efficiently and quicker over millions of years on Earth, according to a Duke University engineer.

Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, argues that just as the design of wheels became lighter with fewer spokes over time, and better at distributing the stresses of hitting the ground, animals have evolved as well to move better on Earth. In essence, over millions of years, animals such as humans developed the fewest "spokes," or legs, as the most efficient method for carrying an increasing body weight and height more easily.

"This prediction of how wheels should emerge in time is confirmed by the evolution of wheel technology," Bejan said. "For example, during the development of the carriage, solid disks were slowly replaced by wheels with tens of spokes."

The advantage of spokes is that they distribute stresses uniformly while being lighter and stronger than a solid wheel. "In contrast with the spoke, the solid wheel of antiquity was stressed unevenly, with a high concentration of stresses near the contact with the ground, and zero stresses on the upper side," Bejan said. "The wheel was large and heavy, and most of its volume did not support the load that the vehicle posed on the axle.

"If you view animal movement as a 'rolling' body, two legs, swinging back and forth, perform the same function of an entire wheel-rim assembly," Bejan said. "They also do it most efficiently like one wheel with two spokes with the stresses flowing unobstructed and uniformly through each spoke. The animal body is both wheel and vehicle for horizontal movement."

Bejan's analysi
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Contact: Richard Merritt
richard.merritt@duke.edu
919-660-8414
Duke University
Source:Eurekalert  

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