The Loh Down On Science

Shatterproof Shrimp

Yes, I’ll order number 49, the ... shatterproof shrimp?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet the peacock mantis shrimp--a beefy bully of a crustacean from the Indo-Pacific.

It uses club-shaped claws to pummel prey. Striking like a bullet, it’ll even punch holes into shellfish, then slurp up the insides. It hammers away its whole life, yet, curiously, its pincers never fall apart.

James Weaver from Harvard University knows why. He analyzed the claws using high-tech imaging techniques. What he found was shrimply amazing--unlike anything ever engineered.

Picture a boxing glove covered in thick bone. Ouch. Now line the inside with helical beams of softer shell-like material. The bony top provides punch while minimizing the impact to the puncher. The internal spirals are shock absorbers that also deflect hairline fractures, sapping their oomph. This stops cracks in their tracks. Reinforce the claw’s sides to prevent buckling, and you’ve got a lean, mean nearly indestructible punching machine.

The design could lead to anticrack airplane frames, body armor, and more.

As for dealing with cracks above plumber’s pants, more research is needed.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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