The Femur Bone vs. The Eiffel Tower
Nearly everyone has heard of the Eiffel Tower, a classic symbol of Paris built in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel, when it impressed the world with its stature and daring design. However, very few people have heard about the similarities between the renowned Eiffel Tower and the body, specifically the femur, the largest bone in the human body. The comparison between a bone and an architectural masterpiece may seem unorthodox, but in reality, Eiffel based his tower design on conclusions drawn upon femur structure.
The femur is the longest and largest bone in the human anatomy, and it is capable of withstanding high pressures, despite being lightweight. Similarly, the Eiffel tower is also surprisingly lightweight when compared to its size and it too is capable of withstanding high pressures. In the early 1850s, anatomist Hermann von Meyer realised that inside the head of the femur contains an orderly lattice of minute bone fibres known as trabeculae, woven in a criss-cross pattern. Hermann was interested in this particular bone due to its horizontal extension into the hip socket; therefore, the load carried by the joint is off-centre and this off-centre load distribution is also seen in the Eiffel Tower.
Then, in 1866, Karl Cullman, an engineer from Switzerland, visited von Meyer’s laboratory and discovered that the internal structure of the bone was designed to reduce the effects of weight load and pressure, supporting the curves on the head of the femur. The trabeculae were ultimately a series of studs and braces arranged along the lines of the forces generated when standing, so the trabeculae were formed exactly where support was required. In addition, the femur bone is also a type of cancellous (spongy) bone which is lighter and less dense than compact bone, due to its unique trabecular matrix. Because Cullman had knowledge in both the fields of mathematics and engineering, he translated these findings into an applicable model and developed a crane from this design, which Eiffel later used in 1889 to design the tower.
For the design and construction of the Eiffel Tower, Eiffel, an engineer himself, developed Cullman’s model and used a lattice of studs and braces to support the curved structure of the tower, similar to the way trabeculae supports the curves in the head of the femur. Since it was based on the structure of a cancellous bone, which is less dense and more lightweight, the tower also used considerably less material. Being 324 metres tall, if all the iron used in the tower were to be melted into a ball, it would only be 12 metres in diameter. Therefore, in 1889, an aspect of human anatomy was used to inspire a tower that has the ability to support a structure with an off centre load distribution, a tower that is eminently light for its size, and this tower would later become one of the most well-known pieces of architecture in the world.
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