3
$\begingroup$

Limpet teeth are supposedly one of the strongest organically produced materials. Unfortunately producing this material in large enough quantities to use for much isn't currently possible.

However what if you had the ability to grow limpet teeth material in large quantities what applications would it have, and what might its macroscopic properties be?

I'm especially interested in what you might use it for in a medieval setting( such as for armor and weapons) provided you also had access to cheap means of producing other super-strong organically produced substances such as spider silk.

I'm thinking about using it in a fantasy setting but have very little idea what properties it would actually have other than the fact it is supposed to be even stronger than spider silk. Unfortunately whereas spider silk is produced in macroscopic quantities limpet teeth only seem to exist in microscopic amounts meaning you have to try to extrapolate its qualities.

I'm interested in how its qualities might compare to other materials like metal and what materials it might replace assuming access to most modern materials.

It's probably in your best interest to look up the paper where they tested limpet teeth. I can't possibly see you knowing how to answer the question otherwise.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Geothyte (that makes their teeth) is only about as strong as your standard calcites, so it wouldn't necessarily withstand weathering by impacts and would be easily worn down / weathered as a building material. I'll give it a try to answer. $\endgroup$ – Mikey Sep 30 '15 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ But why is it the case then that everyone's saying limpet teeth are the strongest natural material? $\endgroup$ – Vakus Drake Sep 30 '15 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ Here's one example bbc.com/news/science-environment-31500883 $\endgroup$ – Vakus Drake Sep 30 '15 at 19:25
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that "strength" is like "intelligence". You can pretend to represent it by a simple number, say one thing is stronger than the other, but that's not really the case. There are different kinds of strength, tensile vs compressive vs yield. So Limpet Teeth can be "strong" in one axis without necessarily being good at building stuff with. I mean Spider Silk is strong, but you aren't making swords out of it. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Sep 30 '15 at 20:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ They would use it instead of mining stone. The "stronger than silk" part makes me think you don't know about different uses of "strong". I seriously doubt a stone-like substance would score well in tensile strength. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Oct 1 '15 at 6:32
1
$\begingroup$

I think this quote from the article linked to by @VakusDrake in the comments above (http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/12/105/20141326) sums it up (my emphasis):

"These observations highlight an absolute material tensile strength that is the highest recorded for a biological material, outperforming the high strength of spider silk currently considered to be the strongest natural material, and approaching values comparable to those of the strongest man-made fibres. "

So, there's your answer - the properties would be almost as strong as the strongest man-made fibres. However, this is just on the small scale, and it might be that trying to make, for example, large cables out of the fibres is impractical.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ and another reference en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limpet#Teeth (4.6 GPa in tension). I assume that they are relatively hard too. Limpet teeth are a mineral / organic composite material. The quoted tensile strength is for the organic material portion. The mineral inclusions possess much lower tensile strengths but much higher hardness. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Oct 1 '15 at 13:14
  • $\begingroup$ By comparison, humans are working with composites with much higher material strengths. For critical roles, we're using fibers like Boron Nitrides (inorganic) with tensile strength around 33 GPa in tension. I don't know the hardness of limpet teeth but human composites concerned with hardness have a wide range of materials to use that are much harder than limpet teeth. - what material is used for a specific application is determined using a cost / benefit analysis. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Oct 1 '15 at 13:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Jim2B I'm assuming for the purposes of the question that people could selectively grow the portion of the structure with the most useful qualities. As for boron nitrates, if they're so much stronger than than steel and kevlar why aren't they used in place of those things, for many uses? Are they just way to expensive? $\endgroup$ – Vakus Drake Oct 1 '15 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ VakusDrake, they're tricky to work with and chemically reactive so they tend to react with the composite matrix. This makes them expensive to use. So Boron Nitride is only used when the benefit outweighs that expense. We do use materials like sapphire, glass, carbon, etc. fibers for less demanding applications. Also these fiber materials have very good tensile strength but usually don't have other bulk properties that we want, which is why they're combined in a composite. It let's us mix & match material properties to suit our needs. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Oct 1 '15 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ So since in the setting organically produced materials are cheap, the fact boron nitride is cheaper will likely not matter. I still think it might be interesting if you could use Boron Nitride for really expensive armor or something though... $\endgroup$ – Vakus Drake Oct 1 '15 at 21:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.