David Labonte


Form-function relationships in biological materials

I am interested in form-function relationships in biological materials, with a focus on insect and plant cuticle. Cuticle is the second most common biopolymer on earth, and fulfils a variety of functions that require vastly different properties, from extremely soft adhesive pads and sensory organs with specialised damping behaviour to impact-resistant armour and stiff, wear-resistant claws and mandibles. I investigate the interplay between material properties and geometry in meeting specific functional requirements, in particular in structures used for attachment such as claws and adhesive pads, and also how the design principles of these structures can be used to improve man-made materials. More specifically, I am interested in the effects of gradually changing material properties. For example, adhesive pads of insects become progressively softer towards their surface, but the functional relevance of this gradient in stiffness remains unclear. I combine experiments on biological specimens and simplified model systems with computer modelling, which together provides a powerful tool to test hypotheses regarding the functional significance of structural adaptations in biological materials.