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British Scientists Find Natural Material Stronger Than Spider Silk

| 18 Feb 2015 18:05
Limpets Seashells 310x

Latest discovery says aquatic material is stronger than spider silk.

For years, spider silk has been championed as the strongest material found in nature (meaning not created in a lab by humans, like graphene). But the arachnid rope may be losing its title to creatures found in the sand, and under the sea.

Limpet teeth are the new strongest naturally-occurring material, according to a study being published by the Royal Society Interface. The teeth are used to scrape food off of rocks and other surfaces, and can only been seen under a microscope. Despite their tiny size, the teeth are incredibly strong, which is why it's can be tough to pry even the smallest sea snails off of rocks at the beach. The teeth are made of tightly wound strands of goethite, which are woven through a protein base.

"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," said Professor Asa Barber, who led the study, "but now we have discovered that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher.

"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."

To test the strength of the material, limpet teeth were ground up and put into a atomic force microscope, which tests the strength of any material down to a single atom. The findings? The teeth were roughly five times stronger than your average strand of spider silk.

Barber also says that the structure of the teeth and their fibers mean the material can scale up in size without losing any strength. If the material and fiber process can be duplicated in a lab, the strength of the material in a man-made object would (theoretically) be nearly identical to the material found in nature.

If further testing and development holds up, the next bulletproof vest to be developed could ditch kevlar, and embrace your friendly everyday sea snail.

Source: University of Portsmouth

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