Researchers are thinking about creating body armor, robots and flexible electronics inspired by the structure of the boxfish.

With sutures connecting its hexagon-shaped scales, the boxfish whose species has survived for about 35 million years now, draws powerful strength.

Engineers at the University of California, San Diego took a closer look at the boxfish (Lactoria cornuta) and studied in structure to find out how this can be further applied to the creation of body armor and sturdier electronics. They published their findings July 27 in the journal Acta Materialia.

According to UCSD alumna Wen Yang who now works at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland and the study's first author, the boxfish dwells in about 50 to 100 meters in deep ocean waters. The small fish is normally in contact with bigger, more aggressive marine creatures, but easily survives due to the strength of its structure.

"After I touched it, I realized why it can survive - it is so strong but at the same time so flexible," added Yang.

The scales of most fish are overlapping, explained materials science and engineering PhD student Steven Naleway, who co-authored the study. This feature makes no room for any weak points when a predator's bite buries itself in between the scales.

Naleway added that the team is currently looking into identifying the mechanical advantages of the hexagon-shaped scales or scutes and sutures have.

The researchers further explained that the scutes can withstand strong forces because of a structure shaped like a star and raised in each scale. This structure distributes stress across the entire surface, making impact of strong forces felt less. Looking more closely, the team also found collagen fibers interlocking on a complex structure in the inner layer of the boxfish's armor. The interlocking of collagen fibers in the inner layers, along with the sutured scutes in the outer layer make it difficult to penetrate the boxfish.

To test the strength of the boxfish's armor, the researchers also tried pulling it apart horizontally and vertically. Similar to what would happen when a predator bites the creature, tension brought about nothing more than just a crack in the outer layer. According to Yang, the second, inner layer of collagen fibers did the trick of making sure the boxfish did not fall apart.

Of course, the idea of a human armor inspired by the protective boxfish armor needs much more investigating and planning, but this little bit of light shed on the boxfish may just help the new armor and flexible electronics become a reality.

Photo: Derek Keats | Flickr

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.