Design principles of hair-like structures as biological machines

Madeleine Seale, Cathal Cummins, Ignazio Maria Viola, Enrico Mastropaolo, Naomi Nakayama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
42 Downloads (Pure)


Hair-like structures are prevalent throughout biology and frequently act to sense or alter interactions with an organism’s environment. The overall shape of a hair is simple: a long, filamentous object that protrudes from the surface of an organism. This basic design, however, can confer a wide range of functions, owing largely to the flexibility and large surface area that it usually possesses. From this simple structural basis, small changes in geo- metry, such as diameter, curvature and inter-hair spacing, can have considerable effects on mechanical properties, allowing functions such as mechanosensing, attachment, movement and protection. Here, we explore how passive features of hair-like structures, both individually and within arrays, enable diverse functions across biology. Understanding the relationships between form and function can provide biologists with an appreciation for the constraints and possibilities on hair-like structures. Additionally, such structures have already been used in biomimetic engineering with applications in sensing, water capture and adhesion. By examining hairs as a functional mechanical unit, geometry and arrangement can be rationally designed to generate new engineering devices and ideas.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20180206
JournalJournal of the Royal Society. Interface
Early online date30 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2018


  • biomechanics
  • biomimetics
  • hair
  • living machines
  • sensors
  • structure–function


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