Engineering Animals: How Life Works

Engineering Animals: How Life Works

by Mark Denny, Alan McFadzean
     
 

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The alarm calls of birds make them difficult for predators to locate, while the howl of wolves and the croak of bullfrogs are designed to carry across long distances. From an engineer's perspective, how do such specialized adaptations among living things really work? And how does physics constrain evolution, channeling it in particular

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Overview

The alarm calls of birds make them difficult for predators to locate, while the howl of wolves and the croak of bullfrogs are designed to carry across long distances. From an engineer's perspective, how do such specialized adaptations among living things really work? And how does physics constrain evolution, channeling it in particular directions?

Writing with wit and a richly informed sense of wonder, Denny and McFadzean offer an expert look at animals as works of engineering, each exquisitely adapted to a specific manner of survival, whether that means spinning webs or flying across continents or hunting in the dark-or writing books. This particular book, containing more than a hundred illustrations, conveys clearly, for engineers and nonengineers alike, the physical principles underlying animal structure and behavior.

Pigeons, for instance-when understood as marvels of engineering-are flying remote sensors: they have wideband acoustical receivers, hi-res optics, magnetic sensing, and celestial navigation. Albatrosses expend little energy while traveling across vast southern oceans, by exploiting a technique known to glider pilots as dynamic soaring. Among insects, one species of fly can locate the source of a sound precisely, even though the fly itself is much smaller than the wavelength of the sound it hears. And that big-brained, upright Great Ape? Evolution has equipped us to figure out an important fact about the natural world: that there is more to life than engineering, but no life at all without it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Incorporating their knowledge of systems engineering into the study of how animals navigate their environment, authors Denny, a retired aerospace engineer who specialized in radar and sonar system, and McFadzean, an oil and gas consultant, have written a fascinating study sure to delight naturalists, hunters, and communications specialists. The two apply their technical expertise to a range of problems taken from the animal kingdom: how animals target their prey, the population dynamics underlying predator-prey relationships, how bird migratory patterns depend upon sense perception, global solar energy flows, and more. Hunters, science buffs, and techies alike will especially be fascinated by discussions of target acquisition and tracking. The authors provide a wide overview combined with convincing details, while emphasizing the wide gap between our ability to model the behavior of living beings and create robotic devices and the power and precision of nature. After reading this book a walk through the woods will never be the same. 100 line illustrations, 18 halftones. (May)
New Scientist

Both physiology primer and engineering textbook, Engineering Animals covers the basics of how physics constrains animal structure and function, all the while marveling at nature's exquisite and often surprising solutions...Engineering Animals is a celebration of nature's ingenuity...This is an engaging journey through animal adaptation for engineers and non-engineers alike.
— Cian O'Luanaigh

Nature
From soaring albatrosses to croaking bullfrogs, different creatures exploit various aspects of engineering to help them fly, hunt, or communicate. In a clear and well-illustrated account, former aerospace engineers Mark Denny and Alan McFadzean describe the principles of physics that underlie animals' sense of smell, their use of sonar, and how they flock, signal to each other, and consume energy.
Physics World
A remarkable book...Written in a light and engaging style, but with plenty of references and footnotes, Engineering Animals is perfect for physicists who, like your reviewer, abandoned formal studies in biology at an early age and have always wondered what they missed.
Science

Mark Denny and Alan McFadzean's Engineering Animals: How Life Works provides a generally engaging engineer's perspective on how animals are built and how they function...The authors do a nice job of making how animals work an enticing subject.
— Andrew A. Biewener

Choice

This wonderful book is a joy to read and will be of interest to both engineers and biologists...[Denny and McFadzean] have built upon their training in both engineering and physics to produce a superbly written work; the explanations of engineering principles at the heart of animal design are entertaining, intuitive, insightful, and concise.
— M. J. O'Donnell

J. Scott Turner
Denny and McFadzean, both having distinguished careers in bioengineering and biomechanics, draw deeply from their experience to explore engineering principles at work in functioning and design of living things. The book is endlessly fascinating, addressing a diversity of topics, from the thermodynamics of living processes to the principles of communications.
Steven Vogel
Yes, animals are engineered - by that designer of long experience, natural selection. Viewing them as products of an exquisitely sophisticated technology, as Denny and McFadzean do here, cannot fail to enrich one's appreciation of the living reality of which we're parts. At the same time, the viewpoint provides a fine mirror in which to appreciate our own, widely divergent, human technology.
New Scientist - Cian O'Luanaigh
Both physiology primer and engineering textbook, Engineering Animals covers the basics of how physics constrains animal structure and function, all the while marveling at nature's exquisite and often surprising solutions...Engineering Animals is a celebration of nature's ingenuity...This is an engaging journey through animal adaptation for engineers and non-engineers alike.
Science - Andrew A. Biewener
Mark Denny and Alan McFadzean's Engineering Animals: How Life Works provides a generally engaging engineer's perspective on how animals are built and how they function...The authors do a nice job of making how animals work an enticing subject.
Choice - M. J. O'Donnell
This wonderful book is a joy to read and will be of interest to both engineers and biologists...[Denny and McFadzean] have built upon their training in both engineering and physics to produce a superbly written work; the explanations of engineering principles at the heart of animal design are entertaining, intuitive, insightful, and concise.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674048546
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
05/16/2011
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

Steven Vogel
Yes, animals are engineered - by that designer of long experience, natural selection. Viewing them as products of an exquisitely sophisticated technology, as Denny and McFadzean do here, cannot fail to enrich one's appreciation of the living reality of which we're parts. At the same time, the viewpoint provides a fine mirror in which to appreciate our own, widely divergent, human technology.
Steven Vogel, author of Glimpses of Creatures in Their Mechanical Worlds
J. Scott Turner
Denny and McFadzean, both having distinguished careers in bioengineering and biomechanics, draw deeply from their experience to explore engineering principles at work in functioning and design of living things. The book is endlessly fascinating, addressing a diversity of topics, from the thermodynamics of living processes to the principles of communications.
J. Scott Turner, author of The Tinkerer's Accomplice

Meet the Author

Mark Denny is a retired aerospace engineer and the author of Froth: The Science of Beer.

Alan McFadzean is an independent consultant.

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