Future buildings may be tough as coconuts

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A cross-section of a coconut (right), showing its exocarp, mesocarp, endocarp and seedling(Credit: Plant Biomechanics Group Freiburg)

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If you've ever tried cracking open a coconut, then you're no doubt aware of how structurally strong they are. Well, scientists from Germany's University of Freiburg recently analyzed coconut shells, to see what makes them so tough. Their findings could lead the way to building materials that are better able to withstand earthquakes.

Coconut shells consist of three distinct layers: the leathery exocarp on the outside, the fibrous mesocarp in the middle, and the hard endocarp on the inside, which protects the developing seedling at the heart of the coconut.

A microscope image of a coconut's endocarp, showing its ladder-like vascular bundles(Credit: Plant Biomechanics Group Freiburg)

Using compression machines and an impact pendulum, the scientists observed the manner in which the endocarp distributes impact energy.

What they found was that the vessels that make up its vascular system – which take the form of angled ladder-like structures known as vascular bundles – dissipate energy by deflecting cracks lengthwise, instead of allowing them to travel straight through to the inside.

It is now hoped that these vascular bundles could be replicated using textile fibers embedded within concrete.

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