Just when you thought you’ve seen everything, scientists come with a new finding which is that nature’s newest and strongest found material comes from a snail.
And not just any snail, but one that lives underwater, the glorious limpet. According to a study what will be published in this month’s Journal of the Royal Society Interface, these very small teeth have dethroned spider silk, which up until then was the holder of the “most powerful biomaterial in the world” title. Limpets use their teeth to remove food from the surface of rocks.
The team of scientists examined the teeth using a microscope to analyze their structure. It seems like these teeth are made out of very thin fibers, arranged in a compact way. The fibers contain a hard mineral known as “goethite”.
The team, led by Asa Barber, a professor at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, wanted to see what kind of force the fibers could withstand without breaking. They decided to test the material’s tensile strenght by attaching each end of a tooth sample to a lever and used an atomic force microscope to pull form each end.
Result showed that this material withstood a force of 5 gigapascals. That is 5 times more than what spider silk can endure. In order for everyone to understand the strength of the limpet teeth, Barber described the situation as something similar to a strand of spaghetti that can hold up 3,300 pounds, the equivalent weight of an adult female hippopotamus.
The limpet teeth also proved to be stronger that some synthetic materials, including Kevlar, used for making bulletproof vests and puncture-proof tires.
The fibers’ abilities come from their size. Each filament has a diameter of about 1/100th of a human hair. This size allows fibers to organize in a very compact manner, leaving no room for holes or defects which many types of large filaments suffer from. This means that no matter the size of a structure built from limpet teeth fibers, it will be able to resist to great amounts of force.
According to Barber, these fibers can be used in the development of better planes, boats and even dental fillings.
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