The mantis shrimp has inspired scientists to design a new generation of super strong materials, a new study describes.

Soon, aircraft, armor and protective helmets, among many others will boast high levels of strength and power, all because of the concept based on the small colorful crustaceans. These creatures have the compelling ability to smash the shells of their prey through their fist-like limb called the dactyl club.

In a new research by University of California, Riverside, and Purdue University, scientists were able to describe a one-of-a-kind herringbone that safeguards the club during collision, and more importantly, allows the marine animal to wreak havoc on its prey.

Focus On Mantis Shrimp

Mantis shrimps may either be considered spearers or smashers. Spearers beat their prey with a spear, while smashers pound the shells of their prey such as snails and crabs via their intense force and speed.

In 2012, scientists released a study that focused on the dactyl clubs of smashers. Their work is now being used as inspiration by a variety of industries, with some firms already starting to translate the discoveries into real products.

In the said study, experts found that the dactyl club has numerous regions. One is called the periodic region, which is found at the internal portion of the club. This region absorbs energy and sorts hazardous shear waves, which pass through materials when under the state of stress.

The periodic region has two stages. The first one is an organic phase composed of chitin, which is a substance found in animal shells, assembled in what appears to be a spiral staircase. The second one is an inorganic phase made up of amorphous calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate.

Discovering A New Region

Now, scientists have discovered a new region, and this time, it is found in the outer portion of the dactyl club. It is an extraordinary herringbone structure called the impact region.

The impact region is a crack-resistant part that protects the mantis as it attacks its prey. Unlike the periodic region, however, the impact region is composed of crystalline calcium phosphate, which is also found in human bone. These minerals envelop organic chitin fibers, which were pressed together to create a herringbone that is notably harder than that of the periodic region.

The unique structure allows the mantis to inflict significant devastation to its prey by transporting higher momentum upon forceful contact.

Scientists also found that the extreme outer layer of the impact region is composed of another thin covering of the dactyl club. This layer detaches stress that may possibly result in significant club failure.

Study lead author Nicholas Yaraghi says this is the first time that the novel herringbone was studied in nature. While it has been known that the impact region enables mantis shrimp to release strong force to its prey during impact, it is still interesting to see that the characteristics of this material are produced by the unique herringbone.

The Process Of Discovery

The team conducted finite element investigations to comprehend what the different structures do. They also 3D printed the herringbone structure for better analysis.

The researchers also created computational models that reflect the local features of the herringbone structure. Through these models, it was explained that stress can be distributed more equally, lessening disastrous structural collapse.

The 3D models were also able to demonstrate that the impact region is more efficient than the periodic region in terms of reallocating stress and averting breaks.

"While the computational modeling results gave us compelling confirmation of the redistribution of stresses in these structures, the 'wow' moment came when we tested our 3D printing samples," said co-author Nicolás Guarín-Zapata.

Applications Of The Study

The new discovery adds valuable information to what is already known and contributes to the team's ongoing efforts to develop new-generation super strong materials for different applications.

Co-author David Kisailus explains that the smasher mantis shrimp has developed this exceptional dactyl club because of only one purpose, and that is to be able to forage. As scientists delve deeper, however, much more information, which may be used to design cars, armor and other materials, is being discovered.

The study was published in the journal Advanced Materials on May 30.

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