Studying Fish to Design New Materials

A research team at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is using 3D printing techniques along with principles of biomimicry to design of new materials based on fish scales. The reason? Fish scales offer both strength and flexibility –  two properties that are highly desirable in human made design materials.

Assistant Professor Stephen Rudykh, head of the research team and the Technion’s Soft Materials Laboratory says, “Many species of fish are flexible, but they are also protected by hard scales. Taking inspiration from nature, we tried to replicate this protecto-flexibility by combining two layers of materials – one soft for flexibility and the other with armor-like scales. The secret behind this material is in the combination and design of hard scales above with soft, flexible tissue below.”

While strength and flexibility are both obviously desirable properties, they unfortunately have an inverse relationship in general. As material strength increases, material flexibility typically decreases and this poses a key challenge in material design. Rudykh however believe he has achieved a ‘trade-off’ of sorts. He explains, “I have managed to increase the penetration resistance by a factor of 40, while reducing flexibility by only a factor of five, and that opens a great many options.’

3D printing technology plays a key role in the development of the team’s research. Rudykh was exposed to the world of 3D printing during his work at MIT and as he explains, the ability to create his designs himself is key to his exploration of new materials.

The team believe their new ultra strong yet flexible fish scale inspired materials could in the future be used to make bulletproof clothing for the military and space suits that are impervious to micro-meteorites and radiation when astronauts embark on spacewalks.