Nature's Machines - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780128044049

Nature's Machines

1st Edition

An Introduction to Organismal Biomechanics

Authors: David Alexander
Paperback ISBN: 9780128044049
Imprint: Academic Press
Published Date: 16th August 2017
Page Count: 202
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Nature’s Machines: An Introduction to Organismal Biomechanics presents the fundamental principles of biomechanics in a concise, accessible way while maintaining necessary rigor. It covers the central principles of whole-organism biomechanics as they apply across the animal and plant kingdoms, featuring brief, tightly-focused coverage that does for biologists what H. M. Frost’s 1967 Introduction to Biomechanics did for physicians. Frequently encountered, basic concepts such as stress and strain, Young’s modulus, force coefficients, viscosity, and Reynolds number are introduced in early chapters in a self-contained format, making them quickly available for learning and as a refresher.

More sophisticated, integrative concepts such as viscoelasticity or properties of hydrostats are covered in the later chapters, where they draw on information from multiple earlier sections of the book. Animal and plant biomechanics is now a common research area widely acknowledged by organismal biologists to have broad relevance. Most of the day-to-day activities of an animal involve mechanical processes, and to the extent that organisms are shaped by adaptive evolution, many of those adaptations are constrained and channelized by mechanical properties. The similarity in body shape of a porpoise and a tuna is no coincidence.

Many may feel that they have an intuitive understanding of many of the mechanical processes that affect animals and plants, but careful biomechanical analyses often yield counterintuitive results: soft, squishy kelp may be better at withstanding pounding waves during storms than hard-shelled mollusks; really small swimmers might benefit from being spherical rather than streamlined; our bones can operate without breaking for decades, whereas steel surgical implants exhibit fatigue failures in a few months if not fully supported by bone.

Key Features

  • Offers organismal biologists and biologists in other areas a background in biomechanics to better understand the research literature and to explore the possibility of using biomechanics approaches in their own work
  • Provides an introductory presentation of the everyday mechanical challenges faced by animals and plants
  • Functions as recommended or required reading for advanced undergraduate biology majors taking courses in biomechanics, supplemental reading in a general organismal biology course, or background reading for a biomechanics seminar course


Biologists in areas other than biomechanics (e.g., physiologists, ecologists, systematists) who desire a basic introduction to fundamental biomechanics; recommended or required reading for advanced undergraduate biology majors taking courses in biomechanics, supplemental reading in a general organismal biology course, background reading for a biomechanics seminar course

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction and Physics Review

1.1 What is Biomechanics?

1.2 A Brief History of Organismal Biomechanics

1.3 Review of Newtonian Physics

Further Reading

Chapter 2. Solid Materials

2.1 Introduction to Solids

2.2 Loading, Deformation, Stress, and Strain

2.3 Failure and How to Prevent It

2.4 Structures

Further Reading

Chapter 3. Fluid Biomechanics

3.1 Fluid Basics

3.2 Fundamental Equations

3.3 Velocity Gradients and Boundary layers

3.4 Wings and Lift

3.5 Swimming

3.6 Internal Flows

3.7 When Flows Are Not Steady

Further Reading

Chapter 4. Biological Materials Blur Boundaries

4.1 Viscoelastic Solids

4.2 Non-Newtonian Liquids

4.3 Mucus

Further Reading

Chapter 5. Systems and Scaling

5.1 Putting it All Together: Biomechanics in Action

5.2. Legs: Muscles, Joints, and Locomotion

5.3 "Soft" (Hydrostatic) Skeletons

5.4 The Consequences of Size

5.5 The Promise of Biomimicry: Have We Arrived?

Further Reading

Chapter 6. Organismal versus Technological Design

6.1 Borrowing from Engineers

6.2 Different Materials, Used in Different Ways

6.3 Research and Methods

Further Reading Bibliography


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© Academic Press 2017
Academic Press
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About the Author

David Alexander

David E. Alexander grew up in a small town outside Dayton, Ohio—less than 20 miles from the Wright brothers’ home—fueling an early interest in flight of all kinds. He earned a B.S. from the University of Michigan in Biological Oceanography, then studied insect flight mechanics for his Ph.D. research at Duke University. He taught biology for several years at Bellarmine College in Louisville, then moved to the University of Kansas, where he has studied the biomechanics of animal swimming and the biomechanics and evolution of animal flight.

Affiliations and Expertise

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA