Chiton Scales

Man-made armors often rely on rigid structures for mechanical protection, which typically results in a trade-off with flexibility and maneuverability. Chitons, a group of marine mollusks, evolved scaled armors that address similar challenges. Many chiton species possess hundreds of small, mineralized scales arrayed on the soft girdle that surrounds their overlapping shell plates. Ensuring both flexibility for locomotion and protection of the underlying soft body, the scaled girdle is an excellent model for multifunctional armor design. Here we conduct a systematic study of the material composition, nanomechanical properties, three-dimensional geometry, and interspecific structural diversity of chiton girdle scales. Moreover, inspired by the tessellated organization of chiton scales, we fabricate a synthetic flexible scaled armor analogue using parametric computational modeling and multi-material 3D printing. This approach allows us to conduct a quantitative evaluation of our chiton-inspired armor to assess its orientation-dependent flexibility and protection capabilities.

The manuscript was published in Nature Communications and can be found here.