Thesis subject

Functional morphology of cuttlefish suction cups

A daunting challenge for engineers is gripping in complex environments, such as the inside of the human body or crop fields of farmers. These environments consist of soft tissues, thin membranes, brittle bones, textured surfaces, and non-Newtonian fluids, whose physical properties differ significantly from the materials traditionally encountered in engineering applications. However, through millions of years of evolution and adaptation, biological systems have developed a variety of grippers that successfully interface with such complex materials.

In this study, we aim to uncover the physical working principles underlying suction-based biological gripping, with a particular focus on the passive suction cups of cuttlefish tentacles. While biological suction cups have received a lot of attention, the morphology of cuttlefish (and squid) suction cups has not been characterized. Cuttlefish suction cups are unique in their ability to function passively without muscles directly embedded into the cups, contrary to the other biological suction-based grippers, especially the similarly-tentacled octopus. Overall, their softness and passive function make them very attractive for applications in soft robotics.

In order to characterize the morphology of cuttlefish suction cups, we plan on combining several microscopy techniques, including computerized tomography (micro-CT), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and possibly cryo-EM. Through this characterization we may reveal how these suction cups can attach and detach passively. Unlike octopus, remoras, and clingfish, the cuttlefish suction cups do not use muscles to increase the volume of the suction cup and generate suction pressures. The mechanisms through which they generate and release suction pressures are still largely unexplored.

Collaborations may be pursued with Plant Sciences for SEM, the Swiss Light Source facility at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland for micro-CT, and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France for micro-CT and cryo-EM.

Examiner: Prof. Dr. Ir. Johan L. van Leeuwen
Supervisors: Guillermo Amador
Contact: Guillermo Amador (via contact form)
Begin date: 10/08/2020 (variable)
End date: 01/06/2222 (variable)
Credits: 36 ECTS (variable)
For: MSc Biology / Animal Sciences
Requirements: Successful completion of Functional Zoology (EZO 30806)
Used skills: Working with preserved tissues and delicate structures. Animal dissection. Analyzing 3D reconstruction data. Electron microscopy techniques.