Bombardier Beetle
Developments to Watch - Edited by Adam Aston

Clues From A Beetle On Safer Jet Engines

Feb 9, 2004

The Bombardier beetle is one tough bug. When harassed by a predator, the half-inch-long insect can retaliate in under a tenth of a second, blasting it with a rapid-fire jet of boiling-hot caustic gas. The beetle makes this toxic spray by combining two harmless chemicals in a millimeter-long chamber in its abdomen, then aiming the resulting agent through a turret-like nozzle at its rear.

Now, Andy McIntosh, a professor of thermodynamics at Britain's University of Leeds, is creating computer-based models of the beetle's superefficient chemical reactor to help improve the reliability of jet engines. Currently, power-hungry electric reigniters are used to fire up an engine that has stalled out at high altitude. McIntosh suspects the beetle's unique heart-shaped reactor will inspire a design for a better reigniter -- one that's both smaller and uses less juice. In design, he says, it's hard to beat nature's best.

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