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A story in shells

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GFSW01 - Form and deformation in solid and fluid mechanics

In every seashell there is a story. It is the story of the creature – a mollusc – that lived in and built the shell. Through an incremental growth process, the mollusc builds its own house, one layer at a time. It is a process that generates a shell surface with geometrical precision, regularity, and self-similarity, properties that have been observed and appreciated by palaeontologists and geometers alike for centuries, and formed a focus point in D'Arcy Thompson's famous book. In that process, there is a mechanical story as well: the form of the shell is driven by the mechanical interaction of a soft body and the rigid shell which it is itself secreting. We hypothesise that this interaction underlies a wide array of secondary patterns termed ornamentations, including ribs, needle sharp spines, travelling waves, and fractal-like structures. With such an abundance of shapes generated through a relatively simple growth process, the mollusc shell thus provides an excellent case study for morphomechanical pattern formation. And with a fossil record over 500 million years old and 100,000 extant species of shell building mollusc, mollusc shells all together tell a story of change and increasing complexity, making an excellent case study for evolution and the physical processes that govern it. In this talk I will present several chapters of the mollusc’s story and progress we have made in trying to understand the role of solid mechanics in their unique form.

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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