Super strength limpet teeth could be a ‘source of inspiration’ to engineers

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THE teeth of the humble limpet could inspire the latest innovations in high-performance engineering, after scientists discovered them to be the strongest natural material known to man.

Until now, scientists thought that spider silk was the strongest biological material, but researchers at the University of Portsmouth, who examined the mechanics of limpet teeth by pulling them down to the level of the atom, believe it is potentially stronger. The structure could be reproduced in racing cars, boat hulls and even planes.

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

Prof Barber said the fibrous structures could be mimicked in 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,” he added.