Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Mathematical modelling of dandelion seed dispersal mechanism can be applied to aid nanorobot design

04 June 2022

Swell Idea

Blowing on a dandelion is supposed to bring good luck – to you and the plant, as dispersing a cloud of seeds far and wide helps to ensure at least some survive. But the dandelion doesn’t leave this to chance. Here the head-like pappus at the top of a seed acts like a hygroscope sensing the water halfway through the video. Parts of its structure swell up, pushing or steering the roots of its wing-like hairs (which have been removed here). In wet conditions, the hairs close up, making the seed more likely to fall nearby into a nice moist spot after take-off. Dry seeds stretch out, ready to travel further to find moisture. Researchers developed a mathematical model for the pappus, probing the mechanical properties that may be mimicked in artificial devices like moisture sensing nanorobots to carry chemicals around the body.

Written by John Ankers

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