Tough as scales: Researchers create protective material inspired by fish skin

In a bid to build flexible and durable protective gear, researchers from McGill University turned to nature for inspiration and frequented a fish market to find test subjects.

Scientists often adopt structures found in nature for new functions. Artificial neural networks — an approach that has enabled great advances in AI — is modeled off of the human brain and nervous system. Harvard roboticists, for example, have built tiny drones that can perch like insects in order to conserve energy. Work smarter, not harder is a tenet of bio-inspired design.

“The fish scales we see on fish nowadays are the result of millions of years of trial and error through natural evolution,” Francois Barthelat, lead researcher at McGill’s Laboratory for Advanced Materials and Bioinspiration, told Digital Trends. “After all that time of fine tuning, we should expect that scales must be very good at what they are made for, in this case resisting bites from predators.”

But not all scales evolve equally. After carrying dozens of striped bass back to the lab, sliding their scales under a microscope, and fracturing them to study their physical properties, Barthelat and his team realized they were probing the wrong species. So, they released the bass and caught a hardy alligator gar.

“The alligator gar is a particularly good model because its scales are very bony and extremely hard, much harder than the scales on your regular fish market fish,” Barthelat said. “Alligator gars are so well ‘armored’ that they are virtually impossible to cut, even with a hacksaw.”

The studies affirmed Barthelat’s assumption about the strength of scales — in fact, it showed scales to be the toughest collagen-based material known — but it also revealed the often counter-intuitive aspects of natural design, such as that smaller scales are less penetrable than larger ones.

Aided by a computer model, Barthelat and his team used their newfound knowledge about the optimal size, shape, and arrangement of scales to develop highly protective, ceramic-covered gloves. Future applications may help protect areas like the neck, knees, and elbows.

“Our bio-inspired scale design excels in applications where a balance between flexibility and protection is required,” Barthelat said. “We are now focusing on personal protection in hazardous industrial environments, and we have also started to explore applications in sports equipment.”

A paper detailing the research was published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics,

Emerging Tech

There’s a new lab-grown meat startup on the block — and it has a secret weapon

Aleph Farms is developing lab-grown steaks with the same flavor, shape, texture, and structure as the real thing using beef cells isolated from living cows. Coming soon to a store near you?
Outdoors

Snooze soundly anywhere you lay your head with the best sleeping bags

A proper sleeping bag has the ability to make or break a camping or backpacking trip. Here are our picks for the best sleeping bags on the market to help you choose the correct bag for any type of outdoor adventure.
Home Theater

These awesome A/V receivers will swarm you with surround sound at any budget

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for a receiver, so we assembled our favorites for 2018, at multiple price points and all loaded with features, from Dolby Atmos to 4K HDR, and much more.
Home Theater

Block the outside world, tune into your own with the best in-ear headphones

Over-the-ear headphones offer top-flight sound, but they're not so easy to take along with you. If you're looking to upgrade your portable sound, check out our favorite in-ear headphones -- there's a model for every user and every budget.
Home Theater

Wireless headphones are finally awesome, and these are our favorites

Between sleek form factors, prime audio quality, and the freedom of untethered listening, there has never been a better time to pick up a pair of wireless headphones. These are the best ones currently available.
Smart Home

This A.I.-enabled tech brings cutting-edge automation to grocery stores

Takeoff Technologies is working to make grocery deliveries fast, accurate, and convenient using A.I.-enabled technology to augment robotic grocery orders that can be completed in minutes.
Product Review

This was 3D printed? With the Anycubic Photon, you can't tell

Never mind the fact that the Anycubic Photon 3D printer only costs 500 bucks. In terms of sheer print quality, this printer is on the same level as machines that cost six times as much.
Emerging Tech

The best 3D printers of 2018

On the hunt for a new 3D printer? We've got your back. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned veteran, this list of the best 3D printers has what you're looking for.
Emerging Tech

Postmates’ to roll out Minion-like autonomous delivery robots in 2019

Postmates is about to employ a cute little robot to work alongside its human delivery personnel. Called Serve, the wheel-based bot can carry items weighing up to 50 pounds and has a range of 30 miles.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

Thrill-seekers will be able to pilot themselves in a giant drone as soon as 2019

Want to hitch a ride on a giant drone? The startup Lift Aircraft is gearing up to let paying customers fly its 18-rotor giant drones over assorted scenic landscapes across the U.S.
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.