Ask a kid to name as many three-dimensional geometric shapes as he or she can think of and they’ll probably run out of fingers to count on before they run out of names … even counting two-dimensional mistakes like triangles. Ask them to name the newest 3-D geometric shape, and you’ll likely get a dog-hearing-a-strange-noise stare, followed by a return to texting on the hexahedron in their hand. If they’re the type to talk back and respond with, “Can you?”, the answer is yes … the newest 3-D geometric shape is the scutoid and it can be found in epithelial cells in human skin. Yes, there will be a test.
‘Scutoid’ sounds like a mutant android but it’s actually a shape somewhat like a prism with a five-sided pentagon on one end and a six-sided hexagon on the other. The points are able to join via a triangle adjacent to one edge of the hexagon whose non-adjacent point magically reduces the number of edges from six to five. If you’re lost, here’s a picture.
While this all sounds mathematical, the source of the scutoid discovery is actually biological. According to their study published in Nature Communications, researchers at Seville University in Spain and Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, were studying how skin develops on an embryo and trying to determine how the cells are able to conform to the curve of the embryonic body while remaining tightl;y packed together. While it has always been assumed that the cells were shaped like straight-sided columns or bottles that expand on the non-skin side, a computer model showed a better way … and a new shape. Javier Buceta, associate professor of bioengineering at Lehigh and study co-author, explains:
“During the modeling process, the results we saw were weird. Our model predicted that as the curvature of the tissue increases, columns and bottle-shapes were not the only shapes that cells may developed. To our surprise, the additional shape didn’t even have a name in math! One does not normally have the opportunity to name a new shape.”
One would think that if one were given such an opportunity, one would come up with a better name than ‘scutoid’. Being biologists and scientists, they immediately recognized that the shape resembled a Scutellum -- the posterior part of an insect thorax – and the scutoid was christened. Someone a little more clever noticed the shape’s convoluted sides and called it a ‘twisted prim’ which is a better name for it and a great name for a band.
Is this a big deal? Yes, says Buceta.
“We have unlocked nature’s solution to achieving efficient epithelial bending.”
In layman’s terms, using the scutoid shape will make it easier to create artificial skin and organs that better match the looks, performance and efficiency of the real thing, especially on a growing body.
Sorry Dr. Buceta. That all sounds great, but scutoid still sounds like more like something the new female Dr. Who will encounter. Or a trick answer on a geometry test.