Skleton Challenge

Can we draw inspiration from animal skeletons to build composite porous materials that are light and resistant?

Figure 1: The photo shows a section through the skeleton of a barnacle, which has a structure similar to cardboard: two hard layers bound by a cushioning layer in between. Credit: Emilia Jarochowska

Animal skeletons are scaffolds made of minerals, but they form inside of a living body. They have to be light and easy to modify, but at the same time strong and resistant to damage. How can we model the perfect structure and density for a given type of stress that acts upon the skeleton? Can we draw inspiration from animal skeletons to build composite materials that are light and resistant?

The epithelial barrier function of the digestive tract is critical to prevent many diseases such as obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and systemic disease. Understanding how we can improve this barrier by preventing porosity, provides significant opportunities to develop cures and prevent diseases. During the project, we will analyse epithelial barrier functions in patients and model organisms, and create artificial barrier mimicking systems to analyse and model porosity changes and test potential cures.

Dr. IJssennagger has developed a method to study the mucus barrier integrity by confocal microscopy. Using this method, intestinal tissues will be used together with fluorescent beads having the same size as those of bacteria. The distance between epithelial cells and the beads can provide a measure for the permeability of the layer (Figure 5). This technique will be adapted in Challenge 2 where fluorescent beads are used to test how produced bio-cement in monuments can prevent transport of degrading fluids.