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Seahorse Tails and 3-D Printers: Square, Unlike an Orange

Jul 02, 2015 05:01 PM EDT

Seahorses have square tails. There, we said it--unlike lizards, rats, monkeys, cats, and others-their tails are not round. But there are pluses to that: Researchers led by Clemson University's Michael M. Porter reported in the journal Science this week that their learnings on the functional advantages of the tail's square construction could lead to tech breakthroughs in robotics, defense systems, and biomedicine.

Not only that, but they got to smash 3-D models of square and round tails, using a mallet.

In doing so, they found that the square version was stiffer, stronger and more resilient than the circular one when crushed. They were about half as able to twist the square prototype; having a square tail, for instance, could really help a cat if its tail was caught in a door. Also, their research showed that the square model might lend better control in grabbing things, according to a release.

Porter thinks the seahorse tail could influence new forms of armor, and lead to search-and-rescue robots that move on the ground like a snake and are able to adjust to fit into tight spaces, Eurekalert said.

The next step, thinks Porter, is to build a robot using what he's learned about seahorse tails, said a Clemson release

Study co-authors are at Ghent University in Belgium; Oregon State University; and University of California, San Diego. Porter built the models and gathered data while he was a Ph.D. student at UC San Diego. After graduating in June 2014, he began work at Clemson and did the study's analysis and writing, the Clemson release said. 

Follow Catherine at @TreesWhales

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