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The fantastic armor of a wonder snail
Date:1/19/2010

Deep within the Kairei Indian hydrothermal vent field, two-and-one-half miles below the central Indian Ocean, scientists have discovered a gastropod mollusk, whose armor could improve load-bearing and protective materials in everything from aircraft hulls to sports equipment.

Researchers at the National Science Foundation-supported Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are studying the mollusk's physical and mechanical properties. A report, "Protection mechanisms of the iron-plated armor of a deep sea hydrothermal vent gastropod," appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The so-called "scaly-foot gastropod," has a unique tri-layered shell that may hold insights for future mechanical design principles. Specifically, it has a highly calcified inner layer, a thick organic middle layer. But, it's the extraordinary outer layer fused with granular iron sulfide that excites researchers.

The Kairei Indian vent field is a series of deep gashes in the planet's surface along a volcanic mountain chain below the Indian Ocean. There, researchers on an expedition discovered the never before seen snail in 1999.

"Hydrothermal vent fluids possess high concentration of sulfides and metals, but this mollusk is unique in that it incorporates materials plentiful to vent field into its shell structure," said MIT project leader Christine Ortiz at MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. "We were interested in looking at the structure and properties of the individual layers and seeing how they behave mechanically," she said noting that the mollusk's organic inner layer is also interesting.

In particular researchers set out to discover what advantages the structure holds for protection against penetrating attacks from predators. Understanding this can give them new ideas for materials that may be used for cars, trucks and military applications.

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Contact: Bobbie Mixon
bmixon@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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