The Venus flower basket sponge is a fascinating creature that has captured the attention of researchers due to its delicate glass-like lattice outer skeleton. This ancient animal that lives in the deep sea has a remarkable ability to filter feed using only the faint ambient currents of the ocean depths, without the need for pumping. This discovery of natural “zero energy” flow control by an international research team could have significant implications for various engineering applications.

In a study published in Physical Review Letters, researchers found that the skeletal structure of the Venus flower basket sponge diverts very slow deep sea currents to flow upwards into its central body cavity. The sponge achieves this through its spiral, ridged outer surface that functions like a spiral staircase, allowing it to passively draw water upwards through its porous, lattice-like frame. This unique adaptation enables the sponge to feed on plankton and other marine detritus without the energy demands of pumping.

The study revealed that the sponge’s ability to passively draw in food works only at the very slow current speeds of its habitat, just centimeters per second. This natural ventilation system is most remarkable in the near-stillness of the deep ocean floors, demonstrating how well the sponge adapts to its harsh environment. The lattice structure of the sponge helps reduce drag on the organism at higher flow speeds, showcasing its versatility.

Researchers used the powerful Leonardo supercomputer at CINECA to create a highly realistic 3D replica of the sponge, containing around 100 billion individual points. This “digital twin” allowed them to perform detailed simulations of water flow around and inside the sponge’s complex helical ridge structure. The massive computing power of the supercomputer enabled the researchers to simulate a wide range of water flow speeds and conditions, providing valuable insights into the sponge’s fluid dynamic performance.

The biomimetic engineering insights uncovered in this study could have practical applications in various fields. By optimizing flow patterns inside reactors and minimizing drag outside, engineers could design more efficient chemical reactors. Similar ridged, porous surfaces inspired by the sponge could enhance air filtration and ventilation systems in buildings. The asymmetric, helical ridges of the sponge may even serve as inspiration for designing low-drag hulls or fuselages that promote streamlined air flows.

The engineering feat of the Venus flower basket sponge in filter feeding passively through natural “zero energy” flow control is truly remarkable. The insights gained from this study could pave the way for innovative engineering solutions that maximize efficiency while minimizing energy consumption.


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