Building Safer Airplanes Out of Teeth

In a recent study, molars beat materials science

Smile for Airplane Safety!
Curtiss P-40 WarhawkUSAF Museum

Airplane design could be improved with a little inspiration from mammalian chompers. Or so said aerospace engineer Herzl Chai of Tel Aviv University in a press release Wednesday.

He and his collaborators studied hundreds of extracted teeth from people and sea otters (apparently our molars are quite similar) to see why teeth can take the wear and tear of a lifetime of peanut brittle. When they submitted the teeth to severe mechanical pressure, they found that pearly whites' complex layers of wavy fibers develop many microcracks instead of a few large fractures.

Chai suggests that the glass and carbon fiber materials used in airplanes might not break up in crashes so badly if they were designed with that kind of wavy structure, instead of the gridlike structure currently in use. Hence, the toothplane, landing soon.