AEM faculty spotlight:
In the human body, cartilage will undergo tens of millions of cycles of pressurization over its lifetime. Its ability to keep working under such conditions makes it intriguing to material scientist. AEM Professor Perry Leo believes learning more about the structure of cartilage and even replicating it in a lab could have profound implications in the world of man-made materials. The interesting challenge, Leo says, will be in successfully applying structures based off cartilage or other soft tissues to the field of aerospace.
What follows is a discussion with Professor Leo regarding his study of biological materials and composites.
Tell me a bit about your research into biological materials
In most biological materials the main structural element is collagen. It has high tensile strength for biological molecules and supports for loads that occur in the body in terms of soft tissue like skin, muscle, and cartilage. What I’ve been interested in is, when materials stop working, seeing if there is change in the microstructure associated with failure that we can identify by modeling. Most of my work has been analytical modeling using methods of man-made composites.
Why study biological materials?
A lot of the solid mechanics faculty members do work in shape memory like aircraft skins that can morph, for example. There’s also a lot of interest in biomemetics, which is studying natural materials in order to create man-made materials. For example, conch shells have been studied as a prototype for high toughness ceramics. My interests have been more on soft tissue. They provide very light weight high toughness systems that can undergo many many cycles. Cartilage will undergo tens of millions of cycles over the course of a lifetime.
Can a non-academic connect to this sort of research?
All the systems I study have in common that at the microstructural level they have multiple constituents. The way those constituents interact determines the properties of the system. Everybody has experience with biological systems, and many have experience with composites in airplanes. The real key for me is trying to explain to people that all these systems are interacting on a microscale level.
How does research into soft tissue apply to aerospace?
In terms of composites I’m interested in fracture of composites, fatigue, degradation – this is a big area in aerospace. By studying in the context of biological materials, we hope to get some ideas that will apply to man-made materials as well.
Last Modified: Thursday, 04-Oct-2007 11:09:10 CDT -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation