Designing Future Body Armor after Dragon Fish Scales with 3D Printing
Researchers from MIT have looked to an ancient fish for inspiration in modern warfare.
This fish, Polypterus senegalus, is a tough beast whose strong bite and sturdy exoskeleton has kept its species going for 96 million years. Each of the scales that cover its long body is made up of multiple layers; when the fish is bitten, each layer cracks in a different pattern so that the scale stays intact as a whole.
Scales near the flexible parts of the fish, such as the tail, are small and allow the fish to bend. Those on the side, protecting the internal organs, are larger and more rigid. Their joints fit together tightly so that each peg reinforces the next scale rather than allowing it to flex.
After performing x-ray scans of scales, Swati Varshney and her team turned to 3D modeling and 3D printing to develop body armor that would protect humans in a similar way.
The researchers created computer models of the different scale types and blew them up to 10 times their original size. Using a 3D printer, they printed a sheet of 144 interlocking scales out of a rigid material (an early prototype is pictured). The group hopes to eventually develop a full suit of fish-scale body armour for the US military that could replace the heavy Kevlar armour currently used, but Varshney says this is still some way off. Such a suit would mimic the fish: rigid and strong across the torso and more flexible towards the joints.
Dragon fish photo by kafka4prez used under Creative Commons license.