A team of British researchers found the strongest organic material on Earth – limpets’ teeth. According to lab testing, limpets’ teeth are more resistant than spider silk and any man-made material, including Kevlar.
Limpets use their teeth to scrape food off rocky formations in marine environments. Often these little animals swallow particles of rocks while feeding.
Researchers found that their teeth are made of a mineral-protein composite that proved nearly unbreakable in laboratory conditions. Scientists believe that the material is so strong because it consists of tightly packed mineral fibers that leave no space for holes or flaws.
The findings may help engineers design new types of composites for cars, space- and aircrafts, as well as dental fillings that would be incredibly shock resistant.
Dr. Asa Barber, the lead author of the study on limpets’ teeth and researcher from the the University of Portsmouth, said biology was a great source of inspiration for engineers since ancient times.
“These teeth are made up of very small fibers, put together in a particular way – and we should be thinking about making our own structures following the same design principles,”
Dr. Barber explained.
The small fibers forming limpets’ teeth consist in an iron-based mineral and a protein that strengthen them like carbon fibers strengthen plastic materials.
Limpets had less than 1 mm long teeth, so researchers had to ground several of them to be able to precisely measure their strength, or the amount of force they can take before breaking.
Engineers introduced the milled limpet tooth material into an atomic force microscope, where enough force was pulled to snap it. The amount of force required to break the limpets’ teeth was, on average, very close to five gigapascals (GPa).
Common spider silk require a five times weaker force to break, scientists explained, while the strongest spider silk on Earth needs 4.5 GPas to break. So, limpets’ teeth set a new world record for biology, according to Dr. Barber.
He also said that usually people are looking for the next strongest thing, so the spider silk had been the winner for quite a while. But his team currently rejoices that the limpet teeth exceeded that record.
Scientists explained that they used on limpet teeth the same pressure required by carbon to turn into diamond deep underneath Earth. Also, Dr. Barber compared the amount of weight the limpet teeth can endure to a single string of spaghetti holding up 3,306 lbs of sugar.
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