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Body Armor Inspired by Piranha-Proof Scales

Ann R. Thryft

March 8, 2012

1 Min Read
Body Armor Inspired by Piranha-Proof Scales

A complex fish scale architecture that's impervious to piranha teeth could be mimicked to provide flexible composites with a hard ceramic surface for applications like body armor or prosthetics.

The architecture, revealed by a research team at the University of California, San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering, includes a very hard exterior and a tough but flexible interior and helps the scales resist razor-sharp piranha teeth.

The Amazonian Arapaima gigas fish is the only animal that lives in the same environment as piranhas and doesn't get eaten by them. Its scales, which can measure up to four inches long, combine a heavily mineralized outer layer with a layered internal structure made of stretchy protein material.


The research team, led by Marc Meyers, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, set up a lab experiment to study the Arapaima scale. The experiment used a sensor-equipped machine that resembles an industrial-strength hole punch. The researchers mounted piranha teeth on the top part of the punch. On the bottom part, the team placed Arapaima scales embedded in a soft rubber surface to emulate the fish's soft, underlying muscle.

When the top part of the punch was pressed down into the scales, the piranha teeth partly penetrated the scales but cracked before they could puncture the rubber.

About the Author(s)

Ann R. Thryft

Ann R. Thryft has written about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for Design News, EE Times, Test & Measurement World, EDN, RTC Magazine, COTS Journal, Nikkei Electronics Asia, Computer Design, and Electronic Buyers' News (EBN). She's introduced readers to several emerging trends: industrial cybersecurity for operational technology, industrial-strength metals 3D printing, RFID, software-defined radio, early mobile phone architectures, open network server and switch/router architectures, and set-top box system design. At EBN Ann won two independently judged Editorial Excellence awards for Best Technology Feature. She holds a BA in Cultural Anthropology from Stanford University and a Certified Business Communicator certificate from the Business Marketing Association (formerly B/PAA).

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