The Skeleton of the Sand Dollar as a Biological Role Model for Segmented Shells in Building Construction: A Research Review

Part of the Biologically-Inspired Systems book series (BISY, volume 8)


Concrete double-curved shell constructions have been used in architectural design and building constructions since the beginning of the twentieth century. Although monolithic shells show a high stiffness as their geometry transfers loads through membrane forces, they have been mostly replaced by the more cost-efficient lattice systems. As lattice systems are covered by planar glass or metal panes, they neither reach the structural efficiency of monolithic shells, nor is their architectural elegance reflected in a continuous curvature. The shells of sand dollars’ – highly adapted sea urchins – combine a modular and multi-plated shell with a flexible, curved as well as smooth design of a monolithic construction. The single elements of the sand dollars’ skeleton are connected by calcite protrusions and can be additionally supported by organic fibres. The structural efficiency of the sea urchin’s skeleton and the principles behind them can be used for innovations in engineering sciences and architectural design while, at the same time, they can be used to illustrate the biological adaptations of these ecologically important animals within their environments. The structure of the sand dollar’s shell is investigated using modern as well as established imaging techniques such as x-ray micro-computed tomography (μCT), scanning electron microscopy and various optical imaging techniques. 3D models generated by μCT scans are the basis for Finite Element Analysis of the sand dollar’s shell to identify possible structural principles and to analyse their structural behaviour. The gained insights of the sand dollar’s mechanical properties can then be used for improving the state-of-the-art techniques of engineering sciences and architectural design.


Echinoids Sand dollar Clypeasteroids Role model Internal support Segmented shell Multi-plated shell Double-curved shell Hierarchical organization Functional morphology Biomimetic Monolithic shell Buttress Pillars Research pavilion Structural principles Biomimetic review 



This work has been funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of the Transregional Collaborative Research Centre (SFB/Transregio) 141 ‘Biological Design and Integrative Structures’/project A07. We also thank The Paleontological Society, The Gerace Research Centre, Hartmut Schultz (Scanning Electron Microscopy Lab, Department for Geosciences, University of Tübingen), Wolfgang Gerber (Photo Lab, Department for Geosciences, University of Tübingen), Ellen Struve (Applied Geosciences, University of Tübingen), Raouf Jemmali (German Aerospace Center, Stuttgart, Germany) and Rolf Pohmann (Max-Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen, Germany). Thanks to the European Fund for Regional Development and the Cluster Forst und Holz Initiative. We also thank Theresa Jones for proof reading and Roland Halbe.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Structural Mechanics (IBB)University of StuttgartStuttgartGermany
  3. 3.Institute for Computational Design (ICD)University of StuttgartStuttgartGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE)University of StuttgartStuttgartGermany

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