Scientists believe they may have found the strongest natural material known to man

February 19, 2015 8:15 am
Scientists believe they may have found the strongest natural material
known to man, one that could be copied to make the cars, boats and
planes of the future – the teeth of the humble limpet.
Researchers
at the University of Portsmouth examined the mechanics of limpet teeth
by pulling them apart all the way down to the level of the atom. They
found the teeth of the snail-like creatures, common to shorelines and
rock pools around the world, is potentially stronger than what was
previously thought to be the strongest biological material, the silk of a
spider.
Scientists believe the structure could be reproduced in high-performance engineering, such as racing cars and in boat hulls.

 Scientists say they have discovered what they believe to be the
strongest natural material known to man – limpet’s teeth, which were so
tough they had to be cut by diamond.

“Nature
is a wonderful source of inspiration for structures that have excellent
mechanical properties,” said Professor Asa Barber, who led the study.

“All 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.
“Until now we thought
that spider silk was the strongest biological material because of its
super-strength and potential applications in everything from
bullet-proof vests to computer electronics, but now we have discovered
that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher.”
The
study, published in the Royal Society journal Interface, found that the
teeth contain a hard material known as goethite, which forms in the
limpet as it grows.
Limpets need the high-strength teeth to rasp over rock surfaces and remove algae for feed when the tide is in.
“We discovered that the fibres of goethite are just the right size to make up a resilient composite structure,” Barber said.
“This
discovery means that the fibrous structures found in limpet teeth could
be mimicked and used in high-performance engineering applications such
as Formula 1 racing cars, the hulls of boats and aircraft structures.
“Engineers
are always interested in making these structures stronger to improve
their performance or lighter so they use less material.”
Limpets’ teeth were also found to be the same strength, no matter what the size.
“Generally
a big structure has lots of flaws and can break more easily than a
smaller structure, which has fewer flaws and is stronger,” Barber said.
“The
problem is that most structures have to be fairly big, so they’re
weaker than we would like. Limpet teeth break this rule as their
strength is the same no matter what the size.”
Examining effective designs in nature and then making structures based on these designs is known as ‘bio-inspiration’.

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