A new super-strong material was inspired by mussels
Nature has long been an inspiration for inventors; from gecko-inspired climbing robots to the Japanese bullet train modelled on the kingfisher’s beak. Now, the latest material to add to this list takes its inspiration from a strange place. Mussels.
If you have ever tried to peel a mussel off a rock, you’ll know how strong they are. A group of researchers has taken a lead from the way mussels grip on tight, to create a strong and flexible new material. Their polymer is described in a new paper in the journal AAAS.
“This material takes advantage of the exquisite chemical bonding schemes perfected by marine mussels to enable strong adhesion to rocks and each other into a load-bearing, structural material,” co-author Megan Valentine, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Alphr.
This is not the first time a material has been designed based on mussels, but previous efforts were soft hydrogels. “By contrast, our materials not only maintain their stiffness and strength under loading, but the mussel-inspired bonds introduce stretchiness and toughness, meaning they can absorb energy rather than breaking suddenly,” explained Valentine.
The bonding is reversible, she added, which means the material can recover and heal after the original bonds are broken, rather than just ceasing to work.
“Mussels are remarkable animals that cling to rocks while being pounded by the ocean,” said Karen Winey, from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who wrote a perspective article about the new research. “Their survival depends on excellent adhesion.”
She added that the material in the new paper could be used in a variety of commercial applications. “The chemistry is tunable in that the number density of covalent and ionic crosslinks can be readily varied to produce materials with a range of properties,” she said.
But Valentine is not sure when we might see the mussel-inspired material in use. “Our emphasis is currently on developing a precise scientific understanding of how these materials work, and how we can optimise them for specific applications,” she explained. “We are hopeful that such materials could soon be used in engineering applications.”