Science breakthrough: ‘Uncrushable’ beetle discovery could create ‘invincible materials’

The diabolical ironclad beetle is, as its name suggests, one tough insect. Clad in super-tough body armour, the beetle can survive the heaviest of forces – as much as being run over by a car. In all, it can withstand forces of up to 39,000 times its own weight.

Scientists are now investigating what exactly allows the diabolical ironclad to be such a force of nature.

It is hoped that their findings will enable engineers to transfer these qualities to future projects.

The new research is published in the prestigious journal Nature.

Study leader Professor David Kisailus of the University of California, Irvine, says the research could lead to never before found “tough, impact and crush-resistant materials”.

The diabolical ironclad beetle (Phloeodes diabolicus) is found mainly in the US and Mexico.

It lives in near obscurity under the bark of trees or beneath rocks.

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The beetle has one of the toughest exoskeletons of any known insect.

The way in which this invincibility trait was first discovered was entirely by chance.

Insect collectors became aware of the toughness of the exoskeleton when trying to mount specimens to boards with standard steel pins.

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Despite tremendous efforts, the pins bent and snapped.

They had to resort to drilling through the beetle’s outer shell in order to penetrate the casting.

It is believed that one of the main reasons why the beetle’s body is so tough is because it has lost its ability to fly.

Thus, the insect has evolved crush-resistant forewings (known as elytra), to survive being pecked to death by hungry birds.

Using microscopy, spectroscopy and mechanical testing, the researchers identified a series of interlocked jigsaw-shaped joints within the exoskeleton.

It was found that the beetle is able to withstand forces of up to 149 Newtons – approximately 39,000 times the creature’s body weight.

Scientists then went on to test the ways in which this strength could be imitated in materials.

They made a series of joints from metal and composites based on those seen in the beetle.

They say their designs enhanced the strength and toughness of the materials.

Bones, teeth and shells, as well as other natural materials have long served as inspiration for scientists seeking to develop new materials.

Recently, separate studies which looked into the force with which the mantis shrimp could use in its club-like forearms were conducted also at the University of California.

Researchers there hoped to use the genetic makeup of the ancient crustaceans in order to create engineering materials in the automotive, aerospace and sports industries.

Countless other natural-world materials have exceptional mechanical performance, as well as strength, toughness and the ability to self-heal.

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