Armor-like covering on a mollusk contains hundreds of tiny eyes, made from the same material as the covering.
Can you imaging a structure made from a material that not only is super strong, but the material can actually see with hundreds of tiny eyes?
Scientists are studying a mollusk called a chiton, which has an outer covering that does just that, according to a report on csmonitor.com. The chiton, related to slugs, octopuses and mussels, has an armor-like shell covered with hundreds of tiny dots, which are actually eyes that are composed of the same type of material, aragonite, as the outer shell.
This isn’t news as scientists discovered that fact some time back, but new research has discovered that each eye has its own complex structure and can sense predators approaching them. That fact has intrigued scientists and they are wondering if we can develop technology to do the same with new multi-functional building materials.
The research team from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge found the chiton can detect a fish as small as eight inches long from six and a half feet away, and the aragonite structures were being used for vision as well as defense.
Joanna Aizenberg, Harvard professor of materials science, said in a press release, “To date, artificial materials that have the ability to perform multiple and often structurally opposite functions are not available. We can not yet rationally design them but studying different multi-functional bio-materials present in nature should ultimately allow us to deduct the key principles for this relatively new area of materials science.”
The scientists say the goal is to try to understand nature’s design to lead to improvements in the design of building materials. As an example, they said the research on the chitons could lead to walls made from a material that contained sensors that could monitor cracks or shifts in the structure.
There are some limitations, however. The structure beneath the lenses on the chitons is composed of soft tissue, and that creates a weakness in the armor plating of the mollusk. The researchers found those softer tissues collapse under pressure that doesn’t even dent the rest of the plates on the covering.