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Lightweighting: Scots pine


Scots pine / Jim Champion / LicenseCC-by-sa - Attribution Share Alike

Trunks and branches of trees withstand external stresses through load-adaptive growth.

Trees and bones achieve an even distribution of mechanical tension through the efficient use of material and adaptive structural design, optimizing strength, resilience, and material for a wide variety of load conditions. For example, to distribute stress uniformly, trees add wood to points of greatest mechanical load, while bones go a step further, removing material where it is not needed, lightweighting their structure for their dynamic workloads. At the scale of the cell, trees arrange fibers in the direction of the flow of force, or principal stress trajectories, to minimize shear stress. Engineers have incorporated these and other lessons learned from trees and bones into software design programs that optimize the weight and performance of fiber-composite materials. For example, car parts and entire cars designed with these principles have resulted in new vehicle designs that are as crash-safe as conventional cars, but up to 30% lighter.
"The analogy that [Claus] Mattheck wants to pursue, though, is not that between trees and other organisms, but between trees and engineered artefacts. If trees achieve longevity and structural stability, aren't these the qualities of reliability and integrity that engineers want to design into products?

"The key to this is Mattheck's contention that the structural optimisation in trees and apparent in other natural structures such as animal bones is all about making the external and internal stresses as uniform across the whole structure as possible. Mattheck calls this the 'axiom of uniform stress' and adds that, though he can cite plenty of examples of it, he cannot prove it exists…Mattheck's contention is that trees are constantly readjusting this balance by adding more material at points of high stress and adding no material at points of low or no stress. (Bones, he contends, go one stage further by actually shrinking at points of low stress.)

"In trees, junctions between main trunks and branches, for instance, are places of concentrated stresses. Trees compensate for this extra stress by adding more material to the shoulder." (Pullin 1998:17-18)
About the inspiring organism
Med_pataluodon_juurakot Pinus sylvestris
Pinus sylvestris L.
Common names: Scots pine, Scotch pine

Habitat(s): Forest
Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: Conifer Database
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Threat Categories LONG_LC IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Lightweighting for manufacture and construction of vehicles, buildings, bridges, prosthetics.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Construction, manufacturing, medicine.

Department of Biomechanics at the Institute for Materials Research II
Claus Mattheck
Karlsruhe Research Centre, University of Karlsruhe
Pullin, John. 1998. Talking to the trees. Professional Engineering. 11(7): 17-18.
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Mattheck, Claus. 1998. Design in nature: learning from trees. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. 276 p.
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Mattheck, Claus. 2006. Teacher tree: the evolution of notch shape optimization from complex to simple. Engineering Fracture Mechanics. 73(2006): 1732-1742.
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over 3 years ago
This comment was removed by a AskNature editor for the following reason:
over 6 years ago
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over 6 years ago
In pic. 3/3 showing enlarged growth rings on one side of the tree, reference Victor Schauberger idea that it is due to solar radiation expanding the material exposed to the sun. Look for trees in a shaded forest not to have this difference in growth rings toward the Soutn (in N. hemisphere) due to never having been highly exposed to sun rays.
over 7 years ago
very interesting, but i still have reservations about how to put this into practice... sounds like a wonderful avenue to design better aircraft. For that I would look especially at the bones of long distance flying birds, such as an albatross, and then probably at the bones around the chest area, which carry a great deal of strain during flight.
over 7 years ago
post a comment here
over 7 years ago
I read Claus Mattheck's book "Design in Nature: Learning from Trees" and now every walk in the woods or in town is spent looking at how trees grow, adjust, and heal. Even looking at a cut board has become more interesting.
over 7 years ago
It does for me, even if I'm not signed in. Is it working for you now?
over 8 years ago
other part no open why?
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