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  1. Abstract

    Tunicates are an evolutionarily significant subphylum of marine chordates, with their phylogenetic position as the sister-group to Vertebrata making them key to unraveling our own deep time origin. Tunicates greatly vary with regards to morphology, ecology, and life cycle, but little is known about the early evolution of the group, e.g. whether their last common ancestor lived freely in the water column or attached to the seafloor. Additionally, tunicates have a poor fossil record, which includes only one taxon with preserved soft-tissues. Here we describeMegasiphon thylakosnov., a 500-million-year-old tunicate from the Marjum Formation of Utah, which features a barrel-shaped body with two long siphons and prominent longitudinal muscles. The ascidiacean-like body of this new species suggests two alternative hypotheses for early tunicate evolution. The most likely scenario positsM. thylakosbelongs to stem-group Tunicata, suggesting that a biphasic life cycle, with a planktonic larva and a sessile epibenthic adult, is ancestral for this entire subphylum. Alternatively, a position within the crown-group indicates that the divergence between appendicularians and all other tunicates occurred 50 million years earlier than currently estimated based on molecular clocks. Ultimately,M. thylakosdemonstrates that fundamental components of the modern tunicate body plan were already established shortly after the Cambrian Explosion.

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  2. A soft robotics-driven model recreates patient-specific biomechanics and hemodynamics of cardiovascular disease. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 22, 2024
  3. Knobby starfish construct a skeleton with a periodic porous lattice from single-crystal calcite for enhanced protection. 
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    From the discovery of functionally graded laminated composites, to near-structurally optimized diagonally reinforced square lattice structures, the skeletal system of the predominantly deep-sea sponge Euplectella aspergillum has continued to inspire biologists, materials scientists and mechanical engineers. Building on these previous efforts, in the present study, we develop an integrated finite element and fluid dynamics approach for investigating structure–function relationships in the complex maze-like organization of helical ridges that surround the main skeletal tube of this species. From these investigations, we discover that not only do these ridges provide additional mechanical reinforcement, but perhaps more significantly, provide a critical hydrodynamic benefit by effectively suppressing von Kármán vortex shedding and reducing lift forcing fluctuations over a wide range of biologically relevant flow regimes. By comparing the disordered sponge ridge geometry to other more symmetrical strake-based vortex suppression systems commonly employed in infrastructure applications ranging from antennas to underwater gas and oil pipelines, we find that the unique maze-like ridge organization of E. aspergillum can completely suppress vortex shedding rather than delaying their shedding to a more downstream location, thus highlighting their potential benefit in these engineering contexts. 
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    Biological systems have a remarkable capability of synthesizing multifunctional materials that are adapted for specific physiological and ecological needs. When exploring structure–function relationships related to multifunctionality in nature, it can be a challenging task to address performance synergies, trade-offs, and the relative importance of different functions in biological materials, which, in turn, can hinder our ability to successfully develop their synthetic bioinspired counterparts. Here, we investigate such relationships between the mechanical and optical properties in a multifunctional biological material found in the highly protective yet conspicuously colored exoskeleton of the flower beetle, Torynorrhina flammea . Combining experimental, computational, and theoretical approaches, we demonstrate that a micropillar-reinforced photonic multilayer in the beetle’s exoskeleton simultaneously enhances mechanical robustness and optical appearance, giving rise to optical damage tolerance. Compared with plain multilayer structures, stiffer vertical micropillars increase stiffness and elastic recovery, restrain the formation of shear bands, and enhance delamination resistance. The micropillars also scatter the reflected light at larger polar angles, enhancing the first optical diffraction order, which makes the reflected color visible from a wider range of viewing angles. The synergistic effect of the improved angular reflectivity and damage localization capability contributes to the optical damage tolerance. Our systematic structural analysis of T. flammea ’s different color polymorphs and parametric optical and mechanical modeling further suggest that the beetle’s microarchitecture is optimized toward maximizing the first-order optical diffraction rather than its mechanical stiffness. These findings shed light on material-level design strategies utilized in biological systems for achieving multifunctionality and could thus inform bioinspired material innovations. 
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  7. Abstract

    Materials with target nonlinear mechanical response can support the design of innovative soft robots, wearable devices, footwear, and energy‐absorbing systems, yet it is challenging to realize them. Here, mechanical metamaterials based on hinged quadrilaterals are used as a platform to realize target nonlinear mechanical responses. It is first shown that by changing the shape of the quadrilaterals, the amount of internal rotations induced by the applied compression can be tuned, and a wide range of mechanical responses is achieved. Next, a neural network is introduced that provides a computationally inexpensive relationship between the parameters describing the geometry and the corresponding stress–strain response. Finally, it is shown that by combining the neural network with an evolution strategy, one can efficiently identify geometries resulting in a wide range of target nonlinear mechanical responses and design optimized energy‐absorbing systems, soft robots, and morphing structures.

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  8. Abstract

    Soft robots adapt passively to complex environments due to their inherent compliance, allowing them to interact safely with fragile or irregular objects and traverse uneven terrain. The vast tunability and ubiquity of textiles has enabled new soft robotic capabilities, especially in the field of wearable robots, but existing textile processing techniques (e.g., cut‐and‐sew, thermal bonding) are limited in terms of rapid, additive, accessible, and waste‐free manufacturing. While 3D knitting has the potential to address these limitations, an incomplete understanding of the impact of structure and material on knit‐scale mechanical properties and macro‐scale device performance has precluded the widespread adoption of knitted robots. In this work, the roles of knit structure and yarn material properties on textile mechanics spanning three regimes–unfolding, geometric rearrangement, and yarn stretching–are elucidated and shown to be tailorable across unique knit architectures and yarn materials. Based on this understanding, 3D knit soft actuators for extension, contraction, and bending are constructed. Combining these actuation primitives enables the monolithic fabrication of entire soft grippers and robots in a single‐step additive manufacturing procedure suitable for a variety of applications. This approach represents a first step in seamlessly “printing” conformal, low‐cost, customizable textile‐based soft robots on‐demand.

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