Research highlight

Materials: Molluscs inspire flexible armour

Nature Communications

December 11, 2019

A new type of flexible armour based on the girdle skirt of marine molluscs called chiton is reported in Nature Communications.

Biology has a history of inspiring a range of different armours; however, flexibility has, and continues to be, a concern when developing armour. Chiton are known for having large shell plates on their backs for protection, but also have an array of mineralized scales to protect the areas not covered by the plates.

Ling Li and colleagues examined how chiton have evolved to protect themselves from attack whilst maintaining a range of motion. The authors explored the structure and function of the mineralized scales from different species of chiton using a range of different techniques. They then designed and 3D printed synthetic polymer armour to further analyse the scales’ structure and function. The team also demonstrated how the 3D printed flexible armour can be used as knee pads to protect against broken glass.

Although the developed armour is plastic, the potential of 3D printing different materials means the design principles developed from this work could lead to the design of additional functional prototypes.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-13215-0

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