May 31, 2016 | By Benedict

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside and Purdue University have used the mantis shrimp as inspiration for a new 3D printed material. The crustacean’s club-like appendage, used to beat prey, consists of an unusual herringbone pattern, which the researchers synthetically replicated.

When looking for ways to strengthen a material, nature often provides the best answers. Airbus recently found that they could copy cell and bone structures to make a 3D printed airplane cabin partition, while researchers at Purdue University last year had a “Eureka!” moment with honeycombs, whose patterns were mimicked to make a super-strong 3D printed material for football helmets.

Now, some of those same researchers from Purdue, in collaboration with others from UCR, have found inspiration in a small marine crustacean known as a stomapod, or mantis shrimp. No, the shrimp didn’t have any words of advice for David Kisailus, the Winston Chung Endowed Professor in Energy Innovation at UCR’s Bourns College of Engineering, but its unusual anatomy gave the professor an idea.

As it happens, there are two kinds of stomapod, “smashers” and “spearers”, with the “smasher” variety of the creature possessing a strange weapon in its arsenal called a “dactyl club”, a fist-like appendage used to beat prey to smithereens. While the “spearers” use a sharp spear-like appendage to stab prey, the “smashers” fling their dactyl club with an acceleration of 10,000g, inflicting huge damage on their unfortunate victims.

What makes the dactyl club so effective is not just the speed at which it is wielded, but the sheer strength of the organic weapon, which delivers so much force yet remains undamaged itself, even after repeated blows. The club consists of several different regions, each of which contribute to its overall strength in a different way. The interior “periodic” region, which consists an organic phase and calcium phosphate / calcium carbonate phase, absorbs energy and filters out shear waves.

Kisailus’ research project, funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research under a $7.5M Multi-University Research Initiative, concerns a different part of the dactyl club: the “impact region”, found on the club’s exterior. It is this region, says Kisailus, that could inspire new ultra-strong 3D printed materials. The impact region consists of crystalline calcium phosphate surrounding chiftin fibers, which are compacted to form an unusual herringbone structure, much stiffer than the structure of the period region. The neatly ordered structure helps both to minimize impact on the club and maximize impact on the receiving material.

Such a herringbone pattern had not previously been observed in nature, and the researchers were therefore excited to share their findings. “We knew from previous studies that the impact region allows the mantis shrimp to transfer incredible momentum to its prey while resisting fracture, but it was exciting to reveal through our research that the properties of this highly impact-resistant material are created by the novel herringbone structure,” said Nicholas Yaraghi, a graduate student in Kisailus’ group.

Kisailus and his UCR research group teamed up with another research group, led by Pablo Zavattieri, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering and University Faculty Scholar at Purdue University, in order to confirm the herringbone hypothesis. To do, the combined teams performed finite element analyses and recreated the structures on a larger scale using synthetic materials and a 3D printer.

Computational models showed that the herringbone pattern helped to uniformly distribute stress across the dactyl club, reducing the possibility of structural failure. The 3D printed models were then put through their paces, with compression tests showing the herringbone structure to be effective at redistributing stress and deflecting cracks—more so than the internal periodic region of the club. “While the computational modeling results gave us compelling confirmation of the redistribution of stresses in these structures, the ‘wow’ moment came when we tested our 3D printing samples,” said Nicolas Guarín-Zapata, a member of Zavattieri’s team.

The researchers believe that their findings have implications for both marine biology and advanced manufacturing. While learning about the mantis shrimp is interesting in itself, Kisailus also thinks that the unusual herringbone structure could be replicated to produce the next generation of robust 3D printed materials, to be used in automative and aerospace parts, as well as armor.

“The smasher mantis shrimp has evolved this exceptionally strong and impact-resistant dactyl club for one primary purpose—to be able to eat,” Kisailus explained. “However, the more we learn about this tiny creature and it’s multi-layered structural designs, the more we realize how much it can help us as we design better planes, cars, sports equipment and armor.”

The best thing about the discovery, the professor says, is just how easy it is to turn that organic structure into a large-scale synthetic duplicate—a feat that is only possible because of 3D printing. “By using 3D printing techniques like those used by Zavattieri’s team, we can actually take what we’ve learned about the architecture of the dactyl club and manufacture new composites with traditional engineering materials like polymers and carbon fiber,” Kisailus said.

The UCR researchers have already build a helmet inspired by the stiff outer shell of the dactyl club. Be sure to thank the mantis shrimp if you end up wearing one in 10 years time.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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