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Deep sea snail shell could be inspiration for new armor

By James Robertson

A tiny sea snail that has adapted to the harsh life near hydrothermal vents deep in the Indian Ocean has become inspiration for materials scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Scaly Foot Snail.jpg
Scaly-foot sea snail. Photo by Anders Warén, Swedish Museum of Natural History

The scaly-foot snail has a shell that protects it extremely well against predators like crabs that try to crack its shell.  The shell is made of three layers–an outer layer studded with iron sulfides, a thick, squishy organic middle layer, and a calcified inner shell.  The scientists found that the thicker middle layer absorbed large amounts of energy and prevented the shell from cracking all the way through, and possibly helped regulate the snail’s temperature.

The scientists are studying defense applications of nanotechnology, and the findings could help them develop armor for soldiers or vehicles that, like the snail’s shell, can absorb large amounts of energy and regulate temperature, two important characteristics of any kind of armor.