The Strongest Natural Material Known

strongest natural material known

Limpet Teeth


A new study finds the strongest natural material known to humans, limpet teeth.

Finding materials that are extremely strong and durable are very interesting in production of anything from formula one cars to electronics. We’ve been able to make extremely strong materials in the lab, like carbon nanotubes, but mass producing these nanomaterials are very challenging. Finding strong materials in nature, like spider silk, can provide a shortcut to manufacture large quantities of very strong material. New research from University of Portsmouth have found the strongest natural material known in teeth of limpets, a snail-like creature.

The Strongest Natural Material Known

The study was published in Royal Society journal Interface

Limpets a small aquatic snail-like creature living in both fresh water and marine environments. The snail like creature have teeth used to rasp rock surfaces and remove algae they consume. The teeth, as it turns out, might be the strongest natural material ever discovered.

“Until now we thought that spider silk was the strongest biological material because of its super-strength and potential applications in everything from bullet-proof vests to computer electronics but now we have discovered that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher.” Professor Asa Barber leader of the study.

The teeth contain a mineral, goethite, that forms in the limpet as it grows. The teeth are slightly smaller than a millimeter long but testing them researchers discovered that the material remains extremely strong no matter how small the sample tested is. In fact, the material tested in this study was almost 100 times thinner than a human hair.

How much force the limpet teeth could withstand was measured using in situ atomic force microscopy. Using this method researchers calculated that the teeth could withstand between 3.0 and 6.5 GPa. Meaning one square meter of limpet teeth could, at the very least, withstand roughly 300 000 tonnes of stress before breaking.

“This discovery means that the fibrous structures found in limpet teeth could be mimicked and used in high-performance engineering applications such as Formula 1 racing cars, the hulls of boats and aircraft structures.” Professor Barber again.


Image Credit: University of Portsmouth