Accelerator Test Facility and Synchrotron Radiation Source at KIT

Tomography: from beetle wings to lightweight building construction

  • Date: May 2014

Research Pavillion on the campus of the University of Stuttgart


The construction principle of hard forewings of beetles has been adapted by architects at the University of Stuttgart
to construct a new pavillion

  Research Pavillion
A combination of glass and carbon fibres
X-ray micro-tomography of an Elytron
Nature is an excellent designer, producing strong but lightweight structures such a bone, horn and the hard forewings (elytra) of certain beetles. The principle of construction of these elytra (from the Greek word for sheath) has been adapted by architects at the University of Stuttgart to construct a new pavilion. The ten metre wide and four metre high structure consists of a combination of glass and carbon fibres which with the help of industrial robots have been spun onto man-high frames and glued together. In this way a structure of cavities and supports has been created between the inner and outer surfaces, similar to that of the beetle forewing.
“Deciphering the construction details of the elytra was fascinating” explained Thomas van de Kamp. By means of X-ray micro-tomography at the synchrotron radiation source ANKA he and his colleagues were able to unravel the tiny structures, only factions of a millimeter large, within the beetle-wing. They showed that between the thin outer and inner surfaces of the forewing there is a system of regularly arranged supporting stays which give the structure its excellent load-bearing properties while keeping the forewing hollow and thus very light. The architects in Stuttgart have made use of this principle of nature to build their town lightweight pavilion.