Scientists have discovered natureâ€™s newest strongest material
I like the word "bioinspiration" ...
Itâ€™s as strong as steel and tough asÂ a bulletproof vest,Â capable of withstanding the same amount of pressure it takes to turn carbon into a diamond. Scientists have discovered natureâ€™s newest strongest material, and it comes from â€¦ a sea snail.
All hail the mighty mollusk.
In a study set to come out this monthÂ in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, British researchers announced that the teeth of shelled,Â aquaticÂ creatures called limpets are the strongest biological material on Earth, overtaking the previous record-holder, spider silk.
The teeth, which are so small they must be examined with a microscope, areÂ composed of very thin, tightly-packed fibers containing a hard mineral calledÂ goethite. LimpetsÂ use them to scrape food off of rocks, but lead authorÂ Asa BarberÂ saidÂ humans can adapt the technology to build better planes, boats and dental fillings.Â
Barber, a professor at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom,Â tested the tooth fibersÂ for tensile strength â€” the amount of force they can withstand without breaking â€” by attaching each end of a very small shaving to a lever and pulling on the sampleÂ with an atomic force microscope. He found that the materialÂ had a strength of 5 gigapascals, about five times the strength of most spider silks.
â€śPeople are always trying to find the next strongest thing, but spider silk has been the winner for quite a few years now,â€ť BarberÂ told the BBC. â€śSo we were quite happy that the limpet teeth exceeded that.â€ť
The teeth also bested several man-made materials, including Kevlar, a synthetic fiber used to make bulletproof vests and puncture-proof tires. The amount of weight it can withstand, Barber told the BBC, can be compared toÂ a strand of spaghetti used to hold up more than 3,300 pounds, the weight of an adult female hippopotamus.
Their secret is inÂ the sizeÂ of their fibers, which are 1/100th the diameter of a human hair. The ultra-thin filamentsÂ avoid the holes and defectsÂ that plague larger strandsÂ â€” including man-made carbon fibers â€” meaning any structure they compose is also flawless, regardless of how big it gets.
â€śGenerally a big structure has lots of flaws and can break more easily than a smaller structure, which has fewer flaws and is stronger,â€ť Barber said in aÂ university press release. â€śThe problem is that most structures have to be fairly big so theyâ€™re weaker than we would like. Limpet teeth break this rule as their strength is the same no matter what the size.â€ť
Barber saidÂ understanding the mechanics of limpet teeth could help engineersÂ make their products sturdier â€” a process called â€śbioinspiration.â€ť
â€śAll the things we observe around us, such as trees, the shells of sea creatures and the limpet teeth studied in this work, have evolved to be effective at what they do,â€ť heÂ said. â€śNature is a wonderful source of inspiration for structures that have excellent mechanical properties.â€ťÂ