Fish scales are a highly effective natural armour against predators. So why not use them as a model to create better protective equipment? Researchers Hans Larsson and François Barthelat from McGill University and Daniel Therriault from Polytechnique Montréal have been doing just that. They put ancient fish, such as Polypterus senegalus, and other newer species such as the striped bass, under the microscope to uncover the secrets of their scales. Their work has led to the researchers' first creation: gloves that are practically indestructible!
To design their gloves, the team examined the mechanisms responsible for the protective properties of fish scales and the way they deform and fracture.
To design their gloves, the team examined the mechanisms responsible for the protective properties of fish scales and the way they deform and fracture. Through computer modelling they were able to determine the best materials as well as the optimum size, shape and arrangement for their artificial scales. They then used these data to design and fabricate a glove covered with small ceramic "scales". The glove was quite flexible and impossible to puncture or lacerate, offering full mechanical protection.
Their next challenge is to make the gloves more flexible and comfortable for workers exposed to hazardous materials or equipment, as protective gloves must be highly flexible to accommodate the movement of the many joints of the hands. The researchers are now turning for inspiration to snakes which, despite their scales, are able to create folds in their skin as they move. Once the issue of flexibility has been resolved for the gloves, the same bio-inspired concepts can be applied to protective equipment for the arms, elbows and knees, which will help reduce work accidents.