These Tiny Teeth Hold the Strongest Material on Earth

Move over, spider silk, another substance takes the lead
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 18, 2015 8:43 AM CST
These Tiny Teeth Hold the Strongest Material on Earth
To measure just how strong the limpet's teeth are, scientists had to push them to the breaking point.   (University of Portsmouth)

There's a new strongest material on the planet, and it's found in the lowly mouth of a tiny snail-like sea creature called a limpet. The limpet's teeth, which are about a millimeter in length, are made up of fibers of goethite, and scientists report in the Royal Society journal Interface that at 5 gigapascals it's about five times stronger than the previous front-runner. "Spider silk has been the winner for quite a few years now," Dr. Asa Barber at the University of Portsmouth tells the BBC. "We were quite happy that the limpet teeth exceeded that." The teeth are so strong, it turns out, that they outdo Kevlar and roughly match the pressure required to turn carbon into diamond below the Earth's crust. Barber's example: Imagine a solitary spaghetti noodle holding up 3,300 pounds of sugar.

The secret may be that goethite, an iron-based fiber that grows as the limpet does, is so thin it avoids the flaws that most larger structures contain, such as holes, reports Australia's News Network. "If I just make my fibers below a certain width, then maybe they wouldn't have to work so hard to get rid of the flaws," says Barber, suggesting that "biology is a great source of inspiration as an engineer." Indeed, he tells Sky News that goethite could be replicated and "used in high-performance engineering applications such as Formula One racing cars, the hulls of boats, and aircraft structures." (Check out which material has the electronics industry, among others, so excited.)

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