R. Tradwell invented the first ever coiled spring in 1763, but nature had been creating these twisty tendrils long before that.
I found this wonderful example of nature’s engineering at the edge of a golf course near Lisbon.
The way these tendrils twist is really fascinating and so clever. You might think that the straight bits in the spring are just mistakes, but in fact they are essential to prevent the whole plant being twisted round. When a climbing plant, such as a cucumber or passion flower starts to grow, it sends out tendrils which start off just waving about in a circular manner. These tendrils will eventually hit something solid and attach themselves to it. The next step is to pull the plant up vertically and this happens because the tendril is able to shorten itself by coiling round and round. The clever bit is that the tendril coils in different directions from each end and so neither the plant nor the support are rotated. This leads to those straight bits in the middle of the springs, which, by the way are known as perversions. (I know how some of you love new words!)
In 2012 a group of scientists at Harvard University did some research trying to understand the processes involved in spiralling cucumber tendrils. They discovered an amazing fact: when you pulled each end of a twisted tendril it did not unwind as a normal spring would, but rather coiled even more. They were able to look at the cells inside the tendril and explain how this worked. Even better they were then able to reproduce this behaviour using a stiff fabric and copper wire and have now applied for a patent for their design for a ‘twistless spring’.
Isn’t nature wonderful!
You can read more on this on The Guardian’s post.
This was posted the Weekly photo challenge: Twist