# Understanding the Biomechanics of Bone using Scaling Laws (adapted from Mark Peterson, Mt.

Holyoke College)

You may have read in your textbook that larger animals (at least those who walk upon land) have thicker bones than do much smaller animals. Let¶s look at some skeletons for animals large and small.

Figure 1: Animals of different sizes have bones that must support dramatically different bodies. Images are obviously not to scale (left): mouse skeleton (http://www.biospace.fr/media/ct_skeleton_big.gif ) and (right) skeleton of an apatosaurus (a large sauropod dinosaur) (http://www.copyrightexpired.com/earlyimage/bones/large/display_osborn_apatosaurus.htm ) For each animal skeleton in Figure 1, observe the large bone of the upper leg, called the femur. (This is the analogy to your own thigh bone.) The idea is that, because of their dramatically different masses, bones for the apatosaurus need to be proportionally thicker for their length than those for the mouse: that is, their width-to-length ratio should be larger for the larger the animal. As early as the 1600¶s, the early physicist Galileo was interested in this question because he observed that living things do not grow arbitrarily large. He wanted to know what physical constraints set the limits to animal size, a topic with contemporary relevance as we face certain knowledge that planets are common in the Universe as a whole, and wonder what life may look like there.

Galileo explained this empirical fact (i.e, that there are not arbitrarily large animals) by arguing that the forces on bones must be offset by enough strength to prevent the bones from breaking in routine daily existence. The proportionally thicker bones of larger animals compensate for their greater mass. Since after a point, it becomes impractical to keep having thicker bones, this sets an effective limit to animal size. Galileo formulated his theories in the 1600¶s in the work Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences1. Implicitly, he was assuming that some mechanism (modern scientists would say natural selection and evolution) enforced this agreement between maximum force and mechanical design. Of course, people still care about the mechanics of bones, e.g., for understanding how to design prosthetics that replace natural bone. In another important case, the elderly often suffer from a condition called osteoporosis, in
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Galileo Galilei, Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences. My edition is translated by Henry Crew and Alfonso de Salvio ( Dover, New York 1954) and this argument appears on page 131, in the section ³Second Day [168]´. There Galileo makes the argument we¶ve conveyed about bone area, though not animal mass. Interestingly, the accompanying illustration of small and large bones makes it clear that Galileo actually does not get the scaling exponent attributed to him. For example, he refers to bending strength, not compressive strength, and does not appear to have thought through the argument about mass scaling. In fact, Darin Hayton (History Department, Haverford College) reports that Galileo is unlikely to have had access to actual bones from a collection, and that he probably reasoned from books containing etchings of animal skeletons popular at the time. Thus, it¶s unlikely he was reasoning from actual quantitative data (or that he felt that was appropriate or necessary!)

as: Fmax ~ Area ~ D2 cylinder with diameter D For a square bone with sides D wide. but we do know how M ought to depend on L. although surely Fmax also depends on the bone¶s properties (how dense it is. Now. the maximum force. ought to scale with body size in a particular way. where D is now diameter. M. which means ³is proportional to´. That¶s because the force of gravity Fg = Mg pushes down on the bones and the momentum is also proportional to mass (and hence. D. This often leads to debilitating fractures and a downward spiral of serious medical complications. We further argue that mass. we get: M = V L3 Of course. and that these dimensions each are proportional to long bone length. Let¶s argue that the forces in daily life are all proportional to body mass. with the same density V. Thus. By this reasoning. its . Fmax. Again. which seems plausible enough. Physicians are studying how age-dependent changes in bone geometry interact with losses in bone mineral density to determine bone strength. and hence bone length. We will now present the way this theory is represented in many modern texts. even physicists don¶t think animal bodies are cubes! This argument simply builds on the reasonable assumption that the actual body mass is proportional to body length x width x depth. how does bone strength depend on body geometry? By strength we mean the maximum force a bone can withstand without breaking.which bones lose mineral content and become brittle. the bone can support. M. arguments about what makes bones strong enough to withstand the rigors of daily life are very timely. Osteoporosis is currently diagnosed by measuring the density of bone minerals. we have only included the way strength depends upon width here.) We call pushing forces compressive forces. mass = density × volume. such as femur length L. Animals have complicated shapes. we should have: M ~ L3 where we introduce the symbol ³~´. depends upon its width. Galileo¶s theory leads to a quantitative prediction about how bone width ought to vary with animal size. So. in general. We now argue that we ought to be able to generalize this rule for any shape animal for any length in the body. for a cylindrical bone. its area varies as T (D/2)2. V. Thicker bones do seem better able to support more weight. any forces that must slow down a moving animal are also. even though it is known that bones take on different shapes (remodel) with age. the area varies as D2. so let¶s simplify things by assuming that the animal¶s body is approximately a cube of uniform density. We write the equation this way because for the actual shape of animals. We will argue that it ought to depend on the area of the bones supporting the body. so for a cube with edges L long. we don¶t know the multiplicative constant before L3. In general.

the other D. 1992) the authors present an alternative derivation using buckling forces on a vertical column that results in the same scaling law. although most systems have more complex scaling behavior than Galileo¶s model. Haverford¶s own Aaron Clauset (Haverford Physics & Computer Science ¶01.5 = 31.5 \$ 5. (That is.D. Boulder) for example studies how to apply scaling laws to empirical data and the scaling of terrorist acts. then the diameter. among other topics. D. etc.) Galileo assumed that these quantities do not vary between animals. and so will we for now. they also show that this in fact accurately describes the way the diameter and height of tree trunks scale. now a professor at University of Colorado.2 greater than that of the smaller animal²the effect we began with.) While Galileo¶s version of this argument relies on an analysis of compressive forces. one has length 3L. in General Physics (2nd edition. Scaling laws also are an important tool in the study of animal evolution. Morton Sternheim & Joseph Kane. pg. 215 & 225-226. and so: L3 ~ D2 This is what physicists call a scaling law. L: D ~ L3/2 = L1. For example.g. By Galileo¶s reasoning. for example.detailed shape. It is a prediction of how bone width. in the analysis of networks and other topics of current scientific research. . one with have femur diameter 5. of the femur for the larger animal ought to be L1. if we have two animals. the other L).. one with femur length 3 times greater than another (e.2D.5 This theory explains why bones become proportionately thicker for larger animals. is expected to depend on bone length. we should have a balance between the forces depending on gravity (Fg) and the strength: M ~ Fmax . if we have a bone such as the femur that has to support the body mass above it then.

Either way. For a scaling law. L in a special format called a log-log plot. d. like LoggerPro. If we have a number X where: Y = 10x Then the logarithm base 10 of Y is: x = log Y = log (10x) Note two additional useful facts about logarithms: 1) Multiplying two numbers makes their logarithms add: log (AY) = log A + log Y because: 10 log (AY) = 10 log A + log Y = 10 log A 10 log Y = A Y 2) Raising a number to a power multiplies its logarithm by the value of that power: log (Yd) = d log Y because:    Returning to our earlier problem and using logarithms in the base 10 system. Another is to fit to this functional form by hand. Boulder. For a scaling law.´ A Clauset. KS Gleditsch Journal of Conflict Resolution. from the paper (³On the frequency of severe terrorist events.org/PS_cache/physics/pdf/0606/0606007v3. now an assistant professor of computer science at University of Colorado. http://arxiv. Testing the scaling law hypothesis In your experiment. it is a good idea to first plot the data for D vs. 58-87 (2007) . let s review the concept of logarithms. in the scaling law: D ~ Ld One is to fit D to this functional form using a computer data analysis program.Figure 2 Left: A scaling law plot of the frequency of terrorist attack measures vs. you will investigate scaling law behavior of bone biomechanics. Right: Researcher Aaron Clauset. when we have: D = A Ld (where A is some constant). there are several ways to determine the quantity of interest. the severity of the event. To investigate this relationship more easily. M Young. the exponent.pdf). we get this relation for the logarithms of D and L: D = A Ld log D = log A + d log L .

but with different d. using a different set of assumptions. he discusses this diagram in some detail so it¶s supposed to demonstrate his point mathematically. when they are subjected to a maximum force that varies as showing below .5. so the scaling law exponent is d = 2. for that region where the data is linear on the log-log plot. Thin-walled tubes will buckle (i.e. To do this. it will still follow a straight line. If the data follows a different scaling law.5! Galileo is a big authority figure in science and even now I find only one reference to this error. body mass data below.) Galileo¶s bones (sketch & his actual finger) Prelab problem 3: Now derive a new scaling law. deform as shown below). revealing a linear dependence for part of the data. What exponent did Galileo actually think resulted from his argument? (Hint: it¶s not d = 1. you must compute the change in the power of 10 along each axis. Departures from a linear plot will indicate the scaling law hypothesis is incorrect. then the slope would be (y/(x = (3 ± 1)/(1 ± 0) = 2.Thus. Does your exponent agree with Galileo¶s theory? Prelab problem 2: The figure below shows a diagram that accompanies Galileo¶s actual scaling argument in his book. plotting the log of D and L thus ought to result in a straight line with slope d = 1. Prelab problem 1: Compute the exponent for the body length vs. Get out a measuring device like a ruler and determine how D depends on L for this figure.. For example. We see this at work in Figure 2(a). if you had data that changed along the x-axis by 100 to 101 and along the yaxis by 101 to 103. where the terrorist attack data has been plotted as the log along both the x and y axes.

arch.html (accessed 12-09-09) Before we do any experiments. which gives the resistance to bending. Discuss the following points with your team members and come up with at least two answers or possible responses to each point and arguments to support them. from Wikipedia The Experiments Part 1: Taking a hard look at Galileo s ideas Galileo¶s theory is often quoted as if it were established fact. (From our ³we can¶t make this stuff up´ collection: This is such a popular idea that you can even buy a dog toy shaped like Galileo¶s illustration and carefully scaled to his specifications from ³petite´ to ³souper´. General Physics). I = TR4/4 for a cylinder with radius R (as derived in Sternheim and Kane. and K is a constant with no dimensions that depends only on how the ends are supported. that is. varies with L for buckling in this situation: D ~ Lb. b = ? (Note this is different from the result for buckling cited above!) Figure 3 shows buckling in columns.edu/~km6e/arch324/content/lectures/lec-25/pres.. and hence we again have F ~ L3. let¶s ask ourselves some hard questions about Galileo¶s theory. though. as above. D. He got the wrong scaling exponent. Determine how the diameter.virginia. as in the textbooks cited above and in the images from a university website below. and he apparently didn¶t even test it on real bones! Figure 4 Galileo must be right. We will form a group again to share your responses after 10 minutes. since everyone reproduces his arguments and he even has his own brand of dog bones! http://www. where L = column length. find the new exponent. (These should not be drawn from your lab manual writeup.) Write up your responses on your lab report form. . E = the bulk modulus.) Maybe we should all be more careful. Assume that the force F is proportional to mass. I = area moment of inertia. though.