Teaching FEA for paleobiologists


Last week was held a new edition of the course about Computer Biomechanics in life sciences using Finite Element Analysis. In last ten years Finite Element Analysis (FEA) become a commonly used method in biology and palaeontology which can be find in lots of recent research publications. As I know, the first paper where FEA was used in the context of paleobiology is the work of Emily Rayfield in the cranial function of Allosaurs published as a letter in Nature [see here!]: And after it, the list of papers is continuously increasing. If you want to know more things about it, I recommend reading the post “FEA for dummies” by the paleobiologist Andrew Cuff.

As a complex methodology, FEA involves a high knowledge of the laws and concepts of continuum mechanics and maths. Especially in numerical solutions of differential equations. But, in order to make thing easier for the scientific community, Soledad de Esteban-Trivigno (from Transmitting Science) proposed me to create a course where all the theoretical background and -of course- the practical approach was explained to biologists, paleontologists or other researchers coming from life sciences. And this is what we are trying to do: give the most important theoretical keys of FEA to the attendants and tricks to create FEA models in software such as CAELinux (the free one) and ANSYS (the expensive one).

In the course, there is an introduction to the Finite Element in order to model biological structures and understand how they worked. It will cover all the steps involved in FEA except the creation or reconstruction of the model, which it is covered in the previous course 3D Model Generation in Biosciences by my colleague Josep Fortuny. And, I know, sometimes is where we are spending most of our time and efforts! That is how to define the material properties of biological structures, the use of a consistent Mesh Generation Methods, and the proper definition of biomechanical boundary conditions and finally, how understand and analyse the results obtained in plane models (the wrong-called 2D) and in the fancy 3D models created from CT-data. But, the limitation of time is always a problem and, in the course, we are just covering static analysis and linear materials. Which it is enough for an starting course because most of the works published in life sciences are covering this part and creates and open window for everybody in the course to learn more in the future.

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more information, upcoming editions and other courses organized by Transmitting Science:  http://www.transmittingscience.org/courses/funct-morph/fea/

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