Bio-inspired body armor from a tough old fish

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fish-armor-2-enlarged.jpgVia LiveScience.com: Researchers at MIT have found valuable insight into body armor by studying the African fish Polypterus senegalus. A living fossil, the fish is largely unchanged since the Cretaceous period — when its ancestors faced an ocean full of large, toothy predators. In its defense, it developed a bite-resistant “armored” skin, whose scales are built up from layers of different materials.

In a study sponsored by the US Army, the MIT engineers studied how each layer of these scales reacts to stress in a different way, combining to blunt the effect of a biting attack. Using experimental and computational research, the team “reveals the materials design principles” behind this tough old survivor — principles that can inform the design of new kinds of armor.

Their paper is the cover story in the new issue of Nature Materials. Read the paper, and meet Ben the Polypterus senegalus, on the website of the Ortiz Laboratory.

For more biomimicry in action, check out Janine Benyus’ TEDTalk — where she discusses the many insights we can gain from studying nature in this way.

Above: The armored fish Polypterus senegalus hides insights into new materials — and clever combinations of materials — for human armor. Photo / Donna Coveney.