Lobster Underbellies Are Surprisingly Tough And Study Could Lead To Flexible Body Armor

Researchers from MIT have been studying creatures from nature for ways to mimic nature to improve all manner of products that humans use every day. One creature that has been studied is the lobster, specifically its underside. The underside of a lobster tail is split into segments that are connected by a flexible translucent membrane.

The researchers say that while those translucent membranes appear vulnerable when compared to the carapace that shields the rest of the lobster, the membrane is very tough. Researchers found when studying the membrane under a microscope, it has a layered, plywood-like structure that makes it tolerant to scrapes and cuts.

The film was found to be deceptively tough and able to protect the lobster's soft belly as it crawls along the bottom of the sea. The team also discovered that to a degree, the membrane is stretchy to allow the lobster to move its tail back and forth quickly to make it more difficult for a predator to pull the tail apart.

Scientists think that the flexibility of the membrane is due in part to the fact that it is a natural hydrogel made up of 90% water. The remainder of the membrane is made of chitin, which is a fibrous materia found in shells and exoskeletons. The study found that the lobster membrane is the toughest of all natural hydrogels, including collagen, animal skins, and natural rubber.

The membrane is about as strong as industrial rubber composites, such as those used to make car tires. Further study of the material could lead to more flexible body armor particularly well suited to very mobile regions of the human body, like the elbows and knees. Armor made out of similar material could protect while being more comfortable and free moving for the wearer.