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Limpets are the ultimate composite engineers

Limpets - small aquatic snail-like creatures found abundantly on rocky shores - are the ultimate composite engineers, according to new research from Queen Mary, University of London.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Researchers at Queen Mary have measured the mechanical properties of small sections of limpet teeth
Researchers at Queen Mary have measured the mechanical properties of small sections of limpet teeth

Dun Lu and Dr Asa Barber, of Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science have measured the mechanical properties of small sections of limpet teeth, whose primary function is to remove algae from rock surfaces at near and inter-tidal regions by rasping over rock surfaces.

Using high-resolution electron microscopy they found that the teeth contain a mineral known as goethite, the fibres of which are just the right length to make up a robust composite structure.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Dr Barber explains: “We found that the teeth of limpets are a composite structure, just like the ones found in aircraft, with fibres reinforcing a biological ‘plastic’. They are striking example of a biological fibre composite.”

Composite materials made of reinforcing fibres are used extensively in man-made materials, such as aerospace structures. The effectiveness of the reinforcement is critically dependent on the length of fibres used in these composite structures, and in the case of limpets, the fibres are just the right length, making them the ultimate composite engineers.

For media information, contact:

Siân Halkyard
Head of Public Relations
Queen Mary University of London
email: s.halkyard@qmul.ac.uk

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