How Woody the living hammer hit the spot

While others tried to build a better computer or teapot or mousetrap, Julian FV Vincent, Mehmet Necip Sahinkaya and Will O’Shea of the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Bath tried to build a better hammer. Unlike most previous hammer smiths, they studied woodpeckers. Why? Because to mechanical engineers, when they are in a certain frame of mind, a woodpecker is nature’s finest version of a hammer.

The trio published a study called A Woodpecker Hammer in the scholarly journal Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part C, Journal of Mechanical Engineering Science.

There they begin with a nod to the Ig Nobel prize-winning research of Dr Ivan Schwab, of the University of California Davis School of Medicine, who in 2002 wrote a monograph that explains why woodpeckers don’t get headaches. Schwab was fascinated by the mechanical properties of the woodpecker’s head – especially why its brain doesn’t homogenise during all that pummelling, and why its eyes don’t pop out of their sockets. The Bath scientists take a more holistic approach….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.