Engineering Animals: How Life Works

Engineering Animals: How Life Works

by Mark Denny, Alan McFadzean


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The alarm calls of birds make them difficult for predators to locate, while the howl of wolves and the croak of bullfrogs are designed to carry across long distances. From an engineer's perspective, how do such specialized adaptations among living things really work? And how does physics constrain evolution, channeling it in particular directions?

Writing with wit and a richly informed sense of wonder, Denny and McFadzean offer an expert look at animals as works of engineering, each exquisitely adapted to a specific manner of survival, whether that means spinning webs or flying across continents or hunting in the dark-or writing books. This particular book, containing more than a hundred illustrations, conveys clearly, for engineers and nonengineers alike, the physical principles underlying animal structure and behavior.

Pigeons, for instance-when understood as marvels of engineering-are flying remote sensors: they have wideband acoustical receivers, hi-res optics, magnetic sensing, and celestial navigation. Albatrosses expend little energy while traveling across vast southern oceans, by exploiting a technique known to glider pilots as dynamic soaring. Among insects, one species of fly can locate the source of a sound precisely, even though the fly itself is much smaller than the wavelength of the sound it hears. And that big-brained, upright Great Ape? Evolution has equipped us to figure out an important fact about the natural world: that there is more to life than engineering, but no life at all without it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674048546
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 05/16/2011
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Mark Denny is a retired aerospace engineer and the author of Froth: The Science of Beer.

Alan McFadzean is an independent consultant.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Part 1 Structure and Movement

1 Go with the Flow 7

2 Structural Engineering: The Bare Bones 35

3 A Moving Experience 58

4 A Mind of Its Own 81

5 Built for Life 106

6 Simple Complexity: Emergent Behavior 130

Part 2 Remote Sensing

7 A Chemical Universe 155

8 Sound Ideas 178

9 Animal Sonar 203

10 Seeing the Light 236

11 There and Back Again: Animal Navigation 263

12 Talk to the Animals 289

Epilogue 313

Notes 317

Further Reading 347

References 351

Acknowledgments 371

Index 373

What People are Saying About This

Steven Vogel

Yes, animals are engineered - by that designer of long experience, natural selection. Viewing them as products of an exquisitely sophisticated technology, as Denny and McFadzean do here, cannot fail to enrich one's appreciation of the living reality of which we're parts. At the same time, the viewpoint provides a fine mirror in which to appreciate our own, widely divergent, human technology.
Steven Vogel, author of Glimpses of Creatures in Their Mechanical Worlds

J. Scott Turner

Denny and McFadzean, both having distinguished careers in bioengineering and biomechanics, draw deeply from their experience to explore engineering principles at work in functioning and design of living things. The book is endlessly fascinating, addressing a diversity of topics, from the thermodynamics of living processes to the principles of communications.
J. Scott Turner, author of The Tinkerer's Accomplice

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