Honeycomb engineering revealed in a report in PNAS, vol. 107, p9502, 25 May 2010.

The geometrical structure of honeycomb has long been recognised as superb engineering. The hexagonal structure makes a light but strong structure. However, natural honeycomb has been discovered to have strength, flexibility and tolerance of temperature changes that the geometry alone cannot explain.

Researchers from the College of engineering, Peking University and School of Engineering Cardiff University have studied the microstructure of natural honeycomb and subjected it to tension and shear tests over a period of two years from when it was first laid down. After the comb is first constructed, bees continually reinforce it with thin layers of wax and silk recycled from cocoons of hatched larvae, creating a strong composite material.

The researchers suggest strong artificial materials could be developed that use both the geometry and composite nature of natural honeycomb. They wrote: “Artificial engineering honeycombs mimic only the macroscopic geometry of natural honeycombs, but have yet to achieve the microstructural sophistication of their natural counterparts. The natural honeycombs serve as a prototype of truly biomimetic cellular materials with hitherto unattainable improvement in stiffness, strength, toughness, and thermal stability.”

Editorial Comment: Do the engineers who studied honeycomb structure stop to think how it came to be invented? Do they think the bees, with their pinhead brains, thought it up? To design (actually copy) and build a “truly biomimetic cellular material” will require many engineers’ brains and computers. Forgive us for repeating the obvious – but if the engineers succeed they will have proof that it took creative intelligence to design the wax and silk and program which bees follow to make the honeycomb structure.

Evidence News, 23 June 2010

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