Limpet teeth made of strongest known natural substance


A scanning electron image of a limpet's teeth.
PROFESSOR ASA BARBER, UNIVERSITY OF PORTSMOUTH SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING

The humble limpet attaches itself to rocks by means of its teeth, which are made of the strongest natural substance known to man, a study has found.

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth studied limpet teeth using atomic force microscopy which can pull a material apart to the atomic level. Professor Asa Barber, from the School of Engineering, led the study.

Limpets use their teeth to cling on to rocks and remove algae for food during full tide. Barber found the teeth contain a mineral known as goethite, and that goethite fibres in the teeth "are just the right size to make up a resilient composite structure".

He said:

"Nature is a wonderful source of inspiration for structures that have excellent mechanical properties ... 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 structure could be mimicked and used in Formula 1 racing cars, boat hulls and aircraft – any application that requires lightness, endurance and strength.

Barber tested material that was almost 100 times thinner than a human hair. "The whole tooth is slightly less than a millimetre long and is curved, so the strength is dependent on both the shape of the tooth and the material," he said.

The results have been published in the Royal Society journal Interface.


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