The natural design of dandelion seeds could be used to model drones and other aerial vehicles that run on little or no power.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have determined that filaments that radiate out from the seeds’ central stalk allow them to glide great distances, sometimes hanging in the air indefinitely. These fibers create a vortex (a ring-shaped air bubble), which help dandelion seeds defy gravity, even though this parachute-like structure is mostly made up of empty space.
The study titled ‘A separated vortex underlies the flight of the dandelion’ was published in the journal Nature on October 17.
The amount of empty space between each fiber and their total number seem to be the key to the stability of these vortexes according to the study’s co-author Cathal Cummins. His partner, Naomi Nakayama says that previous studies have shown that dandelion seeds always have between 90 and 110 filaments.
“It’s scary consistent”, said Cummins.
To test their hypothesis further, the team designed small silicon discs to imitate the dandelion seeds. However, they produced models with a range of openings. These included models which were solid discs and those which were 92 percent air. They found only those models which were closest to the actual dandelion seeds could maintain the detached vortex. Even a 10 percent difference in design resulted in the vortex losing stability.
Commenting on how this discovery can be used to develop sustainable flight technology, Cummins stated, “We found a natural solution for flight that minimizes the material and energy costs, which can be applied to the engineering of sustainable technology.”