Honeycombs’ Surprising Secret Revealed – from livescience.com
By Laura Poppick, Staff Writer
The perfect hexagonal shape of honeycomb cells — once thought to be an incredible feat of math-savvy insects — has now been explained by simple mechanics.
Scientists have marveled at the angular perfection of honeycomb for centuries, but none have been able to clearly describe how it forms. Engineers in the U.K. and China have taken a step forward by showing that the cells actually start off as circles — molded by the shape of a bee’s body — and then flow into a hexagonal pattern seconds later. The researchers reported their findings in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
“People have always speculated how bees have formed these honeycombs,” said Bhushan Karihaloo, an engineer at Cardiff University in the U.K. and co-author of the study, citing Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler as two of the luminaries mystified by the problem. “There have been some incredible, esoteric, even bizarre explanations; (some people) believed the bees had an uncanny ability to measure angles. But it’s actually much more mundane.”
Using a honeycomb grown at a research facility in Beijing, the researchers were able to carefully ward off the bees and photograph the bare honeycomb seconds after formation, providing the first clear evidence that cells naturally start as circles.