Taking design cues from insects and shrimp, materials scientists at Harvard have created a material that’s as strong as aluminum alloy but only half the weight. The substance, dubbed “Shrilk” by its creators, is a material analog for insect cuticle--the material found in the exoskeletons of insects--and is the synthetic equivalent to one of nature’s strongest, lightest, and most interesting materials.
Insect cuticle is nature’s way of providing serious strength and protection without adding weight that would inhibit movement or flight. Moreover, it exhibits a variety of properties, often being rigid through the bulk of the insects body but flexible in the appendages and wings and elastic through joints. It is composed of specific proteins and layers of chitin, a polysaccharide polymer found in biological materials like shrimp shells.