African fish inspires body armour design

July 30th, 2008 - 11:53 am ICT by IANS  


Washington, July 30 (IANS) US engineers are studying the scales of an African fish to design body armour for soldiers. The dermal scales of the fish, Polypterus senegalus, act as an highly effective armour as these are composite of several materials lined up in a certain way, engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in their study published in the July 27 issue of the journal Nature Materials, LiveScience.com reported.

The 16-inch predatory fish has multiple layers of scales, each one hundredth the width of a human hair, that protect the organs and dissipate the attack to surrounding sections of the scales.

“Such fundamental knowledge holds great potential for the development of improved biologically inspired structural materials,” said lead researcher Christine Ortiz, “for example soldier, first-responder and military vehicle armour applications”.

The fish’s shield, which protects it from its own species and other carnivores in the water, would have been particularly critical in the past, when it had to fight off predators such as the now extinct giant sea scorpion with grasping jaws, claws and spiked tails.

The engineers measured the material properties of a single fish scale and its four layer materials, including bone and dentine (a major mineral in teeth).

The different chemical properties of each material, the shape and thickness of each layer and the junctions between layers all contribute to the armour’s strength.

“It doesn’t surprise me that millions of years or hundreds of millions of years of evolution would be a good starting point for what we need for this day and age,” said Leo Smith, assistant curator of zoology at The Field Museum in Chicago.

“The armour’s been sort of fine-tuned during that time for different aspects,” he added.

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