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Mantis shrimp
(Photo : prilfish from Vienna, Austria / Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists inspired by the biological structure of Mantis shrimps 3D-printed lattice structures and dipped them in a novel microbe juice making robust structures that could one day introduce self-growing roads.

What are Mantis Shrimps?

Squilla empusa or commonly known as mantis shrimps are marine crustaceans that can grow to 112-15 inches. Although these crustaceans don't belong to the shrimp family, it gets its name from its resemblance to the praying mantis--a shrimp.

Their unique "thumb splitters" or small appendages are used to break or crack open shells of other crustaceans for food. Mantis shrimps are the fastest known organisms, with quick jabbing appendages reaching 170mph speeds. 

Evolution allowed the mantis shrimp to deal with constant punches with "boulingand" shaped appendages that instead of layers stacked on top of each other, are twisted in an almost helical structure.

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Mantis Shrimp Inspiring Future Roads

Engineers from the University of Southern California and the University of California, Irvine invented a novel material inspired by the mantis shrimp's jabbing appendages. The team was able to gather minerals from the mantis shrimp and grow a 3D-printed shrimp-inspired Bouligand structure with assistance from bacterias.

Researchers started by 3D-printing a lattice structure out of polymer. The results were scaffolding with tons of negative spaces similar to high-beams supporting buildings. These lattice structures were then dipped in a bacterial solution sit for 12-24 hours. 

The bacteria used in the solution Sporosarcina pasteurii attached to the polymer and begun to secrete enzymes known as urease.

After, structures were then dipped into a second bath of calcium ions and urea. The urease began a chemical reaction that resulted in calcium carbonate. This compound is the same material found in clamshells, human bones, and teeth.

In the lab, researchers left the scaffolding solution, where calcium carbonate constantly accumulated filling the lattice within 10 days, giving the lattice polymer a super-tough material made of polymer skeletons and mineral innards.

Lead author Qiming Wang from the University of Southern California says, "This kind of microstructure makes sure that this kind of composite is very tough," as he describes the findings of their research published in the journal Advanced Materials.

He adds, "When you have a crack, that crack will propagate in the twist pattern to dissipate the energy inside the material."

In fact, the resulting material absorbs energy more efficiently than natural nacre, which gives shells their strength, also beating existing artificial materials.

Similar to how mantis shrimp's hammers absorb energy as it punches without snapping, so do the materials developed by Wang and his colleagues. As a potential use, researchers say that it can be used as body armor that needs to dissipate energy from bullet impacts. 

Calcium carbonate is relatively lightweight, scientists might also be able to develop tougher aircraft panels using the novel material created by the team.

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