Move over spider silk, a limpet’s tooth is now nature’s strongest material

18 Feb 2015

A scanning electron microscope image of limpet teeth. Image via A Barber, University of Portsmouth/ N Pugno, U Trento

Future planes, trains and automobiles could be super strong thanks to the discovery that the humble limpet and its teeth are now the strongest natural material known to man, with many applications.

The discovery was made by a research team from the University of Portsmouth in the UK who after analysing the water-bound creature’s small-scale mechanical teeth at an atomic level found that its teeth contained a super-hard mineral called goethite.

According to the study’s lead author, Prof Asa Barber, the mineral’s fibres are just the right size to be capable of being replicated and used as an incredibly strong composite material, particularly for engineering uses where strong but light material is always in demand.

The team also found that regardless of size, the material still maintains the same level of strength which is certainly not common in nature with the material Prof Barber examined found to be 100-times thinner than the breadth of a human hair.


Limpets image via Boobook48/Flickr

Until now, a spider’s silk was believed to be nature’s strongest biological material that has already seen its influence in the development of a number of human applications including bulletproof vests and computer electronics, but the limpet teeth discovery could be ground-breaking in terms of its applications for durable vehicles and other engineering components.

Speaking of their findings, Prof Barber said, “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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic