Body Armor Designed from a Snail's Shell

Crysomallon squamiferum, also known as the scaly-foot gastropod, was discovered at the bottom of the Indian Ocean in 1999 at a depth of 2420 metres. Its shell is remarkably strong because it is flexible, allowing it to absorb blows from predators and dissipate their energy, rather than shatter:

For example, the shell's outermost layer consists of strong particles of iron sulphide created in the hydrothermal vents, each around 20 nanometres across, embedded in a soft organic matrix secreted by the snail. This structure is designed to crack when hit, but in a way that absorbs energy.

Cracks spread only by fanning out around the iron sulphide particles. This "microcracking" not only absorbs energy, it also ensures that larger cracks do not form. What's more, the particles of iron sulphide may blunt and deform intruding claws, the study suggests.

Scientists who have studied the creature suggest that it might be possible to duplicate the structure synthetically for armor or pipelines.

Link via Popular Science | Photo: JAMSTEC

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