Rapid biological movements, such as the extraordinary strikes of mantis shrimp and accelerations of jumping insects, have captivated generations of scientists and engineers. These organisms store energy in elastic structures (e.g. springs) and then rapidly release it using latches, such that movement is driven by the rapid conversion of stored elastic to kinetic energy using springs, with the dynamics of this conversion mediated by latches. Initially drawn to these systems by an interest in the muscle power limits of small jumping insects, biologists established the idea of power amplification, which refers both to a measurement technique and to a conceptual framework defined by the mechanical power output of a system exceeding muscle limits. However, the field of fast elastically driven movements has expanded to encompass diverse biological and synthetic systems that do not have muscles – such as the surface tension catapults of fungal spores and launches of plant seeds. Furthermore, while latches have been recognized as an essential part of many elastic systems, their role in mediating the storage and release of elastic energy from the spring is only now being elucidated. Here, we critically examine the metrics and concepts of power amplification and encourage a framework centered on latch-mediated spring actuation (LaMSA). We emphasize approaches and metrics of LaMSA systems that will forge a pathway toward a principled, interdisciplinary field.
Elastically-driven motion has been used as a strategy to achieve high speeds in small organisms and engineered micro-robotic devices. We examine the size-scaling relations determining the limit of elastic energy release from elastomer bands with mechanical properties similar to the biological protein resilin. The maximum center-of-mass velocity of the elastomer bands was found to be size-scale independent, while smaller bands demonstrated larger accelerations and shorter durations of elastic energy release. Scaling relationships determined from these measurements are consistent with the performance of small organisms which utilize elastic elements to power motion. Engineered devices found in the literature do not follow the same size-scaling relationships, which suggests an opportunity for improved design of engineered devices.
Hydrodynamic slip, the motion of a liquid along a solid surface, represents a fundamental phenomenon in fluid dynamics that governs liquid transport at small scales. For polymeric liquids, de Gennes predicted that the Navier boundary condition together with polymer reptation implies extraordinarily large interfacial slip for entangled polymer melts on ideal surfaces; this Navier-de Gennes model was confirmed using dewetting experiments on ultra-smooth, low-energy substrates. Here, we use capillary leveling—surface tension driven flow of films with initially non-uniform thickness—of polymeric films on these same substrates. Measurement of the slip length from a robust one parameter fit to a lubrication model is achieved. We show that at the low shear rates involved in leveling experiments as compared to dewetting ones, the employed substrates can no longer be considered ideal. The data is instead consistent with a model that includes physical adsorption of polymer chains at the solid/liquid interface.
In biological and engineered systems, an inherent trade-off exists between the force and velocity that can be delivered by a muscle, spring, or combination of the two. However, one can amplify the maximum throwing power of an arm by storing the energy in a bow or sling shot with a latch mechanism for sudden release. Ilton et al. used modeling to explore the performance of motor-driven versus spring-latch systems in engineering and biology across size scales. They found a range of general principles that are common to animals, plants, fungi, and machines that use elastic structures to maximize kinetic energy.