Sea Snail teeth have been now found by scientists to be nature’s strongest material. The teeth of the mighty mollusk are as tough as Kevlar, as solid as steel, and can withstand the immense amount of pressure needed to create a diamond from carbon. The complete findings of this study are projected to be published in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface, later this month. British scientists declared the teeth of the mighty, minuscule mollusks, known as limpets, as the strongest biological material in the world, surpassing the previous strongest material, spider silk.
The microscopic teeth of the sea snail are composed of unbelievably thin, tightly packed fibers which encompass a durable mineral known as goethite, a crystalized ferric iron. Sea snails utilize them to scrape food off of hard surfaces like rocks and the hulls of boats, though many industrial applications can benefit from the material to create more advanced ships, planes, and even dental fillings.
Asa Barber, a British professor at the University of Portsmouth, experimented with the tooth fibers to find its tensile strength – the amount of force a material can endure without breaking. He attached the ends of the filaments to a very small machine that can pull on the filaments and break off a piece and measure it under an atomic force microscope. The goethite was measured to have a strength of 5 gigapascals, or around five times the strength of spider silk. Barber explained that scientists are always searching throughout the biological world to find the successor to the current strongest material, in this case, the successor to spider silk. He explained that his team was overjoyed with their discovery.
The researchers showed that sea snail teeth also surpassed the strength of many man-made materials in their experimentation, like Kevlar, the synthetic, fibrous filaments used to create run-flat tires and bulletproof vests. Barber compared the amount of weight the sea snail teeth can withstand with a single piece of spaghetti holding up an adult hippopotamus – over 3,300 pounds.
The secret of the fibers in sea snail teeth lies in its size, which is 1/100th the diameter of a human hair. The reason why these filaments are so much stronger than those of a larger size, is because larger strands are plagued with developing defects, like holes, which lower their ability to hold an external force. The filaments of the sea snail teeth, on the other hand, are so well crafted, they avoid growing defects, much like synthetic carbon fiber, meaning regardless of what the fibers make or how big it is, the structure is absolutely flawless. Barber explained that since the sea snail teeth break the rule of increasing growth and durability, the application potential for the material is nearly boundary less. He said when the mechanics of the sea snail teeth and fully understood, engineers could use what Barber calls “bioinspiration” to create stronger, sturdier products.
Barber stated nature has the ability to evolve and give inspiration to human-kind regarding the way in which things are created and the perfection, therein. Barber explained he would like to see sea snail teeth inspired Formula One cars, airplane wings, among a plethora of other applications. Since it has been discovered that the filaments of the sea snail teeth are many times stronger than carbon fiber, nature’s strongest material, if synthetically created in a lab, could replace the bodies of race cars to create a safer environment for professional drivers.
By: Alex Lemieux
Picture: David d’O / Schaapmans – License