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Seed-Inspired Material

August 24, 2018

A tiny seed inspires an engineer to design tough new materials.



A weed provides engineering inspiration. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The seeds of the common purslane are as tiny as poppy seeds and easy to overlook. But in the journal Advanced Materials, University of New Hampshire mechanical engineer Yaning Li and her colleagues report that the outer layer of the seeds, known as the seed coat, is made of interlocking, circular plates that create a tough but flexible covering. Li is interested in imitating the structure to make strong new materials.  

YANING LI (University of New Hampshire):

This new concept can potentially be applied to all different materials: ceramic, rubber, metal. It doesn’t matter. But this geometry is the key for this unique application.


Her work is being supported by the Air Force, among others, who want to mimic the survival tricks the little plant has learned over a million years of evolution. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon