Faced with a predator, a lizard may abandon its tail as a distraction so it can scurry to safety. Thanks to specialized anatomical regions known as fracture planes, lizards can even sever their tails at precise points the moment they sense danger. Now the idea, applied to buildings, could save lives, aid rescue efforts, and minimize rebuilding in the wake of a disaster, says a study published in Nature. “Hierarchy-based collapse isolation” ensures that beams connecting the building's parts break if subjected to enough force so the part of the structure that falters first crumbles before the damage spreads. To test this concept, the team built a large, two-story building of concrete, then used a forklift to topple a critical, load-bearing column. Only an isolated portion of it collapsed, while the rest was left standing tall.

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