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Limpets contain the hardest natural material

A group of limpets in Pembrokeshire, Wales. (Photo: Tango22/CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Friday, February 20, 2015, 23:00 (GMT + 9)
A team of scientists from the University of Portsmouth has found that the material composing the teeth of limpet, a small snail-like crustacean with conic shell, is the strongest in nature.
By using atomic force microscopy technique, researchers examined the resistance and mechanical behavior of the teeth of these crustaceans, with which they rasp rocks to get their food.
With this method that allows researchers to separate the materials until its atomic level, the team discovered that the teeth of limpets contain an iron-based mineral known as goethite.
“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,” said Professor Asa Barber from the University’s School of Engineering, and study’s leader.
To analyze the teeth of these shell creatures scientists used atomic force microscopy, using samples 100 times thinner than the diameter of a human hair.
 “Limpets are the bulldozers of the seashore," Steven Hawkins, a researcher at theUniversity of Southampton, said. "The reason limpet teeth are so hard is that when they're feeding, they actually excavate rock. In fact, if you look at their focal pellets they actually look like little concrete blocks,” the scientist told the BBC.
Barber explained that the process of finding effective designs in nature and then making structures based on these designs is known as ‘bioinspiration’.
The material could be reproduced and applied in high-performance engineering applications such as Formula 1 racing cars, the hulls of boats and aircraft structures.
The research findings were published in the Royal Society Journal.

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