Load cells, coconuts and concrete: making earthquake proof buildings

Published On: October 11 2017


The 21st Century is seeing huge leaps forward in technology in all fields, often looking to nature to solve many challenges facing us. You may think this is mainly in the medical field, but looking to nature for answers is beneficial in engineering and architecture.

Bring on the coconut

One of its main properties is the hardness of its shell. This is seen when the coconuts drop some 30m from the tree to the ground without so much as a crack. When you finally do crack the nut it invariably only cracks on one side with the other remaining intact.

The coconut’s design is perfect for protecting its precious seeds, ensuring that they remain safe for germination. Perhaps the structure of the nut’s walls could help with designing earthquake proof buildings.

Researchers of Plant Biomechanics Group of the University of Freiburg have been studying just that. Working with civil engineers and material scientists to investigate how the specialised structure of the nut could be applied in architecture.

Cue the load cells

Compression and impact testing equipment all containing load cells of course, were used to study their structure and how coconuts disperse energy.

“By analysing the fracture behaviour of the samples and combining this with knowledge about the shell’s anatomy gained from microscopy and computed tomography, we aimed to identify mechanically relevant structures for energy absorption,” said researcher Stefanie Schmier.

The cells in the coconut’s endocarp layer were found to possess a “ladder-like” construction giving the endocarp layer its strength as well as its ability to withstand bending forces.

“The endocarp seems to dissipate energy via crack deflection” says Stefanie. “This means that any newly developed cracks created by the impact don’t run directly through the hard shell.”

Concrete buildings

If this process could be applied to concrete for a specific purpose such as a beam, this too might decrease or eliminate fractures during natural disasters, including earthquakes.

“This combination of lightweight structuring with high energy dissipation capacity is of increasing interest to protect buildings against earthquakes, rock fall and other natural or humanmade hazards” says Stefanie.

Load cells for stability testing

If you have a specific requirement for stability testing structures, give us a call. We can design and manufacture load cells specific to your requirements, here in the UK.