Structures & Materials

Structures & Materials

Every moment on Earth, we’re under attack. Wind, water, and gravity are working to tear us apart. But fortunately, life has responded with an arsenal of ingredients, evolved for defense:

  • To withstand compression, nature uses stony materials like calcium in structures such as skeletons and seashells.
  • To cope with bending, nature uses flexible materials including collagen, cellulose, and keratin inside bones, wood, and feathers.
  • To withstand the stress of pulling, nature uses stretchy materials such as cellulose and various proteins for things like stems and spider webs.
  • To momentarily change shape, nature uses elastic materials like cartilage so that spinal discs and other structures bounce back.
  • To allow things to slide, nature uses slippery materials such as mucus and synovial fluid that reduce friction in noses, knees, and more.
  • To provide impact safety, nature uses certain shapes like the dome, allowing structures such as skulls, shells, and eggs to stand strong.


In fact, nature’s building blocks are so impressive that they’ve inspired human inventions. Velcro came about after an engineer’s encounter with stubborn woodland burrs. And resilin—a natural substance found in dragonfly wings and considered the most elastic protein on Earth—is being reproduced by researchers for potential use in replacement spinal discs.