Stronger Composite Materials Inspired by the Mantis Shrimp

Inspired by the fist-like club of a mantis shrimp, a team of researchers led by University of California, Riverside, in collaboration with University of Southern California and Purdue University, have developed a design structure for composite materials that is more impact resistant and tougher than the standard used in airplanes.

The group of researchers have been chosen to receive a $7.5 million grant to develop light-weight, strong advanced materials from a wide range of plants and animals including bamboo and the mantis shrimp.

The funding, which will be distributed over five years, comes from the US Department of Defence Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program. This particular grant comes from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, one of the military research offices which awards MURI grants.

The peacock mantis shrimp, or stomatopod, can be up to 6 inches in length and has a fist-like club that accelerates underwater faster than a 22-calibur bullet. Researchers, led by Kisailus, an associate professor of chemical engineering, are interested in the club because it can strike prey thousands of times without breaking.

In a recently published paper “Bio-Inspired Impact Resistant Composites,” the researchers applied that spiraled, or helicoidal, layered design when creating carbon fibre-epoxy composites. Composites with this design structure could be used for a variety of applications, including aerospace and automotive frames, body armour and football helmets.

In experiments outlined in the paper, the researchers created carbon fibre-epoxy composites with layers at three different helicoidal angles ranging from about 10 degrees to 25 degrees. They also built two control structures: a unidirectional, meaning the layers were placed directly on top and parallel to each other, and a quasi-isotropic, the standard used in the aerospace industry, which has alternating layers stacked upon each other in an orientation of 0 degrees (first layer), -45 degrees (second layer), +45 degrees (third layer), 90 degrees (fourth layer) and so on.

As well as the Shrimp, researchers will study more than 20 organisms, including mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, mollusks, crustaceans, insects and plants. Examples include: light-weight, tough and durable materials with cellular structures such as the stem of bamboo; the beak of a toucan; layered structures from shells of marine snails and antlers from mammals, and insect cuticles.