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Phloeodes diabolicus, the diabolical ironclad beetle. Photo: David Kisailus/University of California, Irvine

The diabolical ironclad beetle can withstand enormous forces, protecting it from predators — and potentially providing scientists with new designs for materials.

Why it matters: Details of the beetle's architecture reported by researchers this week could lead to improved ways to join together materials like plastics and metals that are key for constructing airplanes and buildings but can break unpredictably.

Details: The forewings, called elytra, in the flightless Phloeodes diabolicus are fused together into a hard exoskeleton that likely evolved to protect the insect from predators.

  • Jesus Rivera of the University of California, Riverside and his colleagues report the beetle can survive being run over by a car and withstand forces up to 39,000 times greater than its body weight — equivalent to a 150-pound person supporting about 240 school buses.

How it works: Using scanning electron microscopy and CT scans, the researchers found the beetle's strength and toughness are due to two key features.

  1. Three different types of supports on the sides of the beetle, where the elytra and the shell on the insect's underside meet, allow the beetle to be compliant so it can squeeze into rocks without crushing its organs, says David Kisailus, a materials scientist who is Rivera's adviser. Other beetles have these lateral supports, but only one kind of them across the length of their body.
  2. The two elytra on the beetle's back interlock like jigsaw puzzle pieces, giving the exoskeleton strength. If the load on the beetle is great enough to disconnect those pieces, the layers of tissue within them separate and slide past each other, slowly deforming the exoskeleton and dissipating the stress.

When Rivera mimicked the beetle's exoskeleton with a carbon-fiber plastic material and compared it to standard fasteners used in aviation today, he found the beetle-inspired design was slightly stronger, significantly tougher and broke in a more predictable way, the authors report in the journal Nature.

The big idea: As organisms adapt over millions of years to various environments and stresses, nature sometimes converges on what are probably the best designs, says Kisailus. Identifying those designs in plants and animals could provide a set of rules for creating new materials.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
44 mins ago - Economy & Business

The Fed could be firing up economic stimulus in disguise

Federal Reserve governor Lael Brainard at a "Fed Listens" event. Photo: Eric Baradat / AFP via Getty Images.

Even as global growth expectations increase and governments pile on fiscal spending measures central bankers are quietly restarting recession-era bond-buying programs.

Driving the news: Comments Tuesday from Fed governor Lael Brainard suggest the Fed may be jumping onboard the global monetary policy rethink and restarting a program used following the 2008 global financial crisis.

Democrats' hypocrisy moment

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be facing explicit calls to resign from President Biden on down, if you apply the standard that Democrats set for similar allegations against Republicans. And it's not a close call.

Why it matters: The #MeToo moment saw men in power run out of town for exploiting young women. Democrats led the charge. So the silence of so many of them seems more strange — and unacceptable by their own standards — by the hour.

Police officers' immunity from lawsuits is getting a fresh look

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, advocates of changes in police practices are launching new moves to limit or eliminate legal liability protections for officers accused of excessive force.

Why it matters: Revising or eliminating qualified immunity — the shield police officers have now — could force officers accused of excessive force to personally face civil penalties in addition to their departments. But such a change could intensify a nationwide police officer shortage, critics say.