The Incredible (Mr.) Limpet

A study was recently released by the Journal Interface which showed that the teeth of Limpets contained the strongest material yet found in nature.  This material has been measured to have a tensile strength of 3.0 to 6.5 GPa, stronger than spider-silk (the previous champion) and approximately the same strength as the carbon fibers produced by Toray.

6.5 GPa is about 20-25% of the strength needed to build a space elevator, so this is a potentially significant development.

It is speculated that the reason for the strong teeth is that limpets need them to extract nutrients from rocks and evolution has given them the means to do so.  The material in the teeth which provides the strength, nano-fibers of Goethite, are something I’ve never heard of before.  Not being a materials scientist, I’m probably talking through my hat here, but perhaps someone could infuse a substance harder than rock with some of the nutrients needed by limpets, and see if limpets can further evolve to extract it.  Also, there are myriad types of limpets and they exist in both fresh and salt water.  Perhaps some of them have evolved even stronger teeth…

At the very least, it should give real materials scientists something new to think about in their quest to develop stronger and stronger materials.

One final note: one of the authors of the study was none other than our friend Dr. Nicola Pugno.  Nicola has been a long-time researcher in the field of materials development and has authored numerous articles on this subject, including ones in Volume 1 and Volume 2 of CLIMB, the Space Elevator Journal.