A four-inch tropical shrimp has made a big impression on scientists trying to create state-of-the-art military shields and military body armour.Jacqueline Klimas at Navy Times reports the peacock mantis shrimp‘s “hammer fists” are so perfectly impact-resistant, yet lightweight, that a team at the University of California has received $600,000 from the Air Force Office Of Scientific Research to study the shrimp’s attributes for military use.
Klimas spoke with lead researcher David Kisailus who explained that the shrimp’s fists “can smash through clam shells, small fishes’ skulls and even aquarium glass at a velocity of 45 mph underwater with 200 pounds of force.”
So scientists are looking to translate the shrimp’s awesome capability into a new shock-resistant material for protecting troops and their hardware from enemy fire and IED blasts alike. The material could be used for helmets, Humvee, helicopters, drones, and gun-mounted shields.
Based on the shrimp’s physiology, everything comes down to understanding the little critter’s “fists” which have three unique layers, explains Kisailus:
- The outer layer, like knuckles, are composed of hard crystalline minerals.
- The next layer is made of softer, organic fibres that absorb impact — they’re stacked into the shape of a spiral or corkscrew, like a piece of rotini pasta.
- The final “striated” layer has fibres woven parallel to each other around the shrimp’s limb, like tape around a boxer’s fists.
Altogether, the three layers can withstand repeated impacts — over a period of four months, the shrimp can deal 50,000 punches before it needs to grow a new limb, reports Klimas.
And now the scientists are very close to to replicating this powerful gift of nature.
They’ve already designed a lightweight prototype — made of epoxy adhesive material and fibreglass — that’s proved to be bullet-proof and lighter than the typical steel plates used by the armed forces today. The future material could replace titanium too.
Klimas reports that by 2015, a refined version using more more expensive carbon fibres would be ready for testing by the U.S. military.
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