Geometry and Mechanics in the Opening of Chiral Seed Pods

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Science  23 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6050, pp. 1726-1730
DOI: 10.1126/science.1203874

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We studied the mechanical process of seed pods opening in Bauhinia variegate and found a chirality-creating mechanism, which turns an initially flat pod valve into a helix. We studied configurations of strips cut from pod valve tissue and from composite elastic materials that mimic its structure. The experiments reveal various helical configurations with sharp morphological transitions between them. Using the mathematical framework of “incompatible elasticity,” we modeled the pod as a thin strip with a flat intrinsic metric and a saddle-like intrinsic curvature. Our theoretical analysis quantitatively predicts all observed configurations, thus linking the pod’s microscopic structure and macroscopic conformation. We suggest that this type of incompatible strip is likely to play a role in the self-assembly of chiral macromolecules and could be used for the engineering of synthetic self-shaping devices.

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