Super-strong material found in shellfish has future engineering applications

Strongest Natural Material - Goethite - Found In Shellfish

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth in the UK have discovered that limpets — small marine creatures with conical shells — have teeth made of the mineral Goethite, the strongest substance known in nature.

The research involved studying the small-scale mechanical behavior of limpet teeth using atomic force microscopy. The study was published Tuesday, February 17th in the UK academic journal Interface.

Statement from Professor Asa Barber

Professor Asa Barber from University of Portsmouth’s School of Engineering was the lead researcher on the study. He noted: “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.”

Barber added: “Limpets need high strength teeth to rasp over rock surfaces and remove algae for feeding when the tide is in. We discovered that the fibers of goethite are just the right size to make up a resilient composite structure.”

Goethite has many potential applications

Prof. Barber also noted that super-strong Goethite has many potential applications. “This discovery means that the fibrous structures found in limpet teeth could be mimicked and used in high-performance engineering applications such as 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.”

Discovering effective designs in nature and then creating useful devices based on these designs is called “bioinspiration”.

“Biology is a great source of inspiration when designing new structures but with so many biological structures to consider, it can take time to discover which may be useful,” Barber commented.