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Snail shell study could lead to improved armor for soldiers

Posted on Thursday, February 25th, 2010 at 10:00 am by

A study of Scaly-foot gastropod, Crysomallon squamiferum, may lead researcher on a path to developing a better designed armor for soldiers and vehicles. Christine Ortiz, an MIT Associate Professor, reports that the shell of this particular snail is unlike any other naturally occurring or synthetic armor. This unique shell, is constructed of three layers which enable it to dissipate a force that would fracture weaker shells. Mimicking select aspects of this three-layer structure could assist scientists in designing improved armor for military purposes.

The Scaly-foot gastropod employs an outermost layer which consists of strong iron sulphide particles, created in hydrothermal vents. Each vent is around 20 nanometers across, and is embedded in an organic matrix. This layer, is designed specifically in a way that would enable it to crack when hit, while absorbing the applied force. This sort of microcracking fans out around the iron sulphide particles only, and prevents larger cracks from forming.

The second of the three layers, is a thick, sponge-like substance which further absorbs the force of the blow, and shelters the more fragile inner shell. This layer, has may also dissipate thermal fluctuations and heat.

In addition to the Scaly-foot gastropod, Ortiz is also looking at chintons, urchins, beetles and armored fish for inspiration for created a more effective synthetic armor without adding weight.

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