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Building bigger dinosaurs: the mechanics of terrestrial giants

Project BigDino
Research Area Bio Sciences
Principal Investigator(s) Dr William Sellers
Institution(s)
  • University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

Abstract

Size is hugely important in biology. Almost any feature you care to measure about an organism has some sort of correlation with body size. The mechanics of animals is no exception. As animals get bigger their legs get longer and their muscles get stronger as you would expect. Thanks to the work of various engineers over the centuries we have a very good understanding of how mechanics change as things get bigger. We know that as things get larger they get stronger but not as quickly as they get heavier. That means that the strength to weight ratio of big things is lower than the strength to weight ratio in small things and we need to take this into account when scaling up from models to the real thing. It is no different in animals. If we consider the group of animals that have skeletons and live on the land we see that the adult size varies from 2 g to 7000 kg in modern animals, and perhaps up to as much as 100 tonnes if we include dinosaurs. This is a huge range when we consider that the materials that the animals are made from are largely identical and is particularly impressive for the very largest animals where the strength to weight ratios are lowest. What we want to know is whether these largest animals were limited in size by their mechanics. They had to move around so there would have been enormous forces acting on the skeletons and it is entirely possible that the largest of the dinosaurs were actually as big as they could be in terms of mechanics. Access to the DEISA Supercomputing Grid will mean that we can test this proposition directly.

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