"Slow" and "ugly" are words used to describe some hybrid cars and, coincidentally, the gumboot chiton. Soon the two may have even more in common thanks to a discovery by researchers at the University of California, Riverside.
Gumboots, also known as the "wandering meatloaf," are foot-long marine snails that roam tidal zones, scraping algae from rocks by using up to 80 rows of magnetite-tipped teeth. Magnetite, the "hardest biomineral known on Earth," not only strengthens the gumboot's chompers, it makes them magnetic as well. New teeth are grown continuously and enter the "wear zone" as old ones wear out.
University of California Riverside Assistant Professor David Kisailus studied how the gumboots grew their magnetic teeth and found they produced nanocrystals at significantly lower temperatures than scientists have ever figured out. That could mean cheaper, more efficient solar cells and faster-charging Li-ion batteries. According to the Ward's Auto:
"Kisailus presently is using the snail's biomineralization pathway to grow minerals used in Li-ion batteries and solar cells. By controlling the crystal size, shape and orientation of engineering nanomaterials, he believes he can build materials that will allow the batteries and solar cells to operate more efficiently."
The same process might also be used to grow materials for car and airplane frames as well as abrasion-resistant cloth. Check out Ward's for the full scientific download.