Nature’s latest discovered supermaterial comes from a decidedly modest creature: A type of mollusk found on the rocky shores of western Europe. (Nat Geo News)
Take a look at our coloring page to see where limpets live.
Teachers, scroll down for a short list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.
- According to the Nat Geo News article, limpet teeth grow from a radula, a tongue-like, ribbon-like structure used to scrape and cut food, such as algae, off rocky surfaces. (Click here for a great article—including a graphic—on limpets and how they eat.) If limpet teeth are so tough, why don’t they leave marks on those rocks?
- According to the Nat Geo News article, the tiny, terrifyingly strong teeth of the common European limpet are reinforced by nanofibers of goethite, a common mineral (second definition). What are nanofibers? Watch this video for some help.
- Nanofibers are string-like structures that exist on the nanoscale—materials measured in nanometers, a unit of length equal to a billionth of a meter. Nanofibers are strings with diameters of less than 100 nanometers.
- Goethite is not the strongest mineral on Earth. (That’s probably diamond, depending on how you define “strong.”) Why do nanofibers of goethite contribute to the strength of limpet teeth? Watch this video for some help.
- Substances in the nano-world behave differently than the same material does in our world. The color, surface area, and tensile strength of a substance can all change at the nanoscale. In particular, “Limpets are clever because they use mineral fibers below a particular size, where flaws [in the fibers] don’t affect the strength of the composite structure,” says one engineer quoted in the Nat Geo News article.
- The Nat Geo News article says the strength of a limpet’s teeth may inspire materials engineers. Can you think of some uses for such strong material? (Nat Geo came up with two.)
- Vehicles: “For instance, racing bikes and race cars use light, strong composite materials to cope with stress, and a limpet-tooth-inspired design could help engineers build a stronger chassis that doesn’t sacrifice speed.”
- Protective gear: The limpet teeth displayed almost twice the tensile strength of Kevlar.
Nat Geo: Modest Mollusk May Sport World’s Strongest Material
Nat Geo: Rocky Shore Ecosystem
A Snail’s Odyssey: Learn About Limpets
(extra credit!) Interface: Extreme strength observed in limpet teeth
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