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Features May 2004: Volume 1, Number 2
   

Tough Toucan

 
     

Once the darling of ornithologists (and Irish Guinness ads), the Toucan is now the focus of a study at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering. Or to be more precise, its beak is. In a paper published in the December issue of Acta Materialia, Marc A. Meyers, a UCSD professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, along with graduate students Yasuaki Seki and Matthew S. Schneider, revealed the secret to the lightweight strength of the Toucan’s beak. They analyzed its density, stiffness, hardness and response to compression and stretching. They discovered that the lightweight strength of the Toco Toucan’s beak is due to a matrix of bony fibers and drum-like membranes sandwiched between an outer layer of keratin, the protein that makes up fingernails, hair and horn.

“Our computer modeling,” says Meyers, “shows that the beak is optimized to an amazing degree for high strength and very little weight.” Meyers first marveled at the lightweight toughness of toucan beaks when he was a boy growing up
in Brazil 40 years ago, and he now believes that automobile and airplane makers could benefit from this first-ever detailed engineering analysis.

Contributors to Making Waves: Mario Aguilera, '89, Jessica Demian, Marnette Federis, '06, Rex Graham, Raymond Hardie and Kim McDonald.

RELATED LINKS

UCSD News Release
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UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering
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