Military researchers have been looking at nature's defences in studies on the next generation of body armour.
In so doing, they've isolated one particular species, the mantis shrimp, which has a fearsome club-shaped fist. This pounds other creatures at a speed of approximately 100,000 metres a second - roughly equivalent to the velocity of a .22 calibre bullet.
Now, one researcher based in California hopes to construct a man-made version of this natural design that's both thinner and lighter than present day body armour.
Mantis Shrimp Armour
There's reported to be about 400 different types of mantis shrimp in existence, all of them able to unleash extreme violence on their prey, although they have variations in their armour. Since they've been known to smash through aquarium glass, if removed from the ocean, mantis shrimps require to be kept behind specialised, reinforced material.
Not only can their clubs strike a fearsome blow but they're exceptionally durable, too, so capable of inflicting something like 50,000 actions during their lifetime.
The University of California's David Kisailus and his team explored the mantis shrimps' claws' exceptional properties and discovered a multi-regional structure. There's an external 1mm-thick impact area with a high mineral concentration and, inside this, chitin fibres that further absorb this impact. The way these fibres are positioned serves to deflect energy and stop cracks developing so, in effect, there's a constant redistribution process going on inside.
"This club is stiff, yet it's lightweight and tough, making it incredibly impact-tolerant and interestingly, shock-resistant," Kisailus explained in a University of California press release issued in June 2012, adding: "That's the holy grail for materials engineers."
Next-Gen Body Armour
Potential applications for this material include aircraft skins, electric vehicles and many others but next-gen body armour's envisaged by Kisailus as a key development area, especially bearing in mind the weight conventional armour adds to a warfighter's battlefield load.
Armed with a $590,000 research grant from the USAF's Office of Scientific Funding, the Californian team will now be taking this development programme forward.
Armed Forces International will report further on their findings in future News Items.
Image copyright Nazir Amin - Courtesy Wikimedia Commons