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Light Like a Feather: A Fibrous Natural Composite with a Shape Changing from Round to Square.

Abstract

Only seldom are square/rectangular shapes found in nature. One notable exception is the bird feather rachis, which raises the question: why is the proximal base round but the distal end square? Herein, it is uncovered that, given the same area, square cross sections show higher bending rigidity and are superior in maintaining the original shape, whereas circular sections ovalize upon flexing. This circular-to-square shape change increases the ability of the flight feathers to resist flexure while minimizes the weight along the shaft length. The walls are themselves a heterogeneous composite with the fiber arrangements adjusted to the local stress requirements: the dorsal and ventral regions are composed of longitudinal and circumferential fibers, while lateral walls consist of crossed fibers. This natural avian design is ready to be reproduced, and it is anticipated that the knowledge gained from this work will inspire new materials and structures for, e.g., manned/unmanned aerial vehicles.

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