Washington, Mar 28 : Scientists at University of California - Santa Barbara have made an advancement in understanding the characteristics of squid beaks, something that may pave the way for engineers to develop new materials imitating biological materials.
The sharp beak of the Humboldt squid is one of the hardest and stiffest organic materials to be found.
Scientists focussed their study on how the soft, gelatinous squid can operate its knife-like beak without tearing itself to pieces.
"Squids can be aggressive, whimsical, suddenly mean, and they are always hungry," said Herb Waite, co-author and professor of biology at UC Santa Barbara.
"You wouldn't want to be diving next to one. A dozen of them could eat you, or really hurt you a lot," he added.
They found that the key to the squid beak lies in the gradations of stiffness. The tip is extremely stiff, yet the base is 100 times more compliant, allowing it to blend with surrounding tissue.
However, this only works when the base of the beak is wet. After it dries out, the base becomes similarly stiff as the already desiccated beak tip.
"Here you have a 'cutting tool' that's extremely hard and stiff at its tip and is attached to a material -- the muscular buccal mass -- that has the consistency of Jell-o," said Frank Zok, co-author and professor and associate chair of the Department of Materials at UC Santa Barbara.
"You can imagine the problems you'd encounter if you attached a knife blade to a block of Jell-o and tried to use that blade for cutting. The blade would cut through the Jell-o at least as much as the targeted object.
"In the case of the squid beak, nature takes care of the problem by changing the beak composition progressively, rather than abruptly, so that its tip can pierce prey without harming the squid in the process. It's a truly fascinating design!" he added.
Zok also said that if they are able to reproduce the property gradients that found in squid beak, it would open new possibilities for joining materials.
"For example, if you graded an adhesive to make its properties match one material on one side and the other material on the other side, you could potentially form a much more robust bond."
"This could really revolutionize the way engineers think about attaching materials together," he added.
The study appears in this week's issue of the journal Science.