How the University of California is Creating Real Life Superheroes

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How the University of California Harnesses Nature’s Super Powers

From gecko-inspired climbing gear to robotic vehicles that can sprint over sand, University of California researchers are looking to the natural world for breakthrough ideas that can turn ordinary people into super humans.


The University of California is known for scientific breakthroughs that change the way we live. Many of their designs are inspired by the awesome abilities that naturally occur in the animal kingdom.

Comic book superheroes like Spider-Man, Batman and the Wasp boast powers that mimic nature. Spider-Man spins super-strong webs and crawls walls, Batman uses sonar lenses to locate foes in the dark and the Wasp can bring down her enemies with a single sting.

Now, University of California researchers are replicating the amazing adaptations of fish, lizards and insects and using them for human advantage.


You might think twice about poking a toe in the Amazon River, but there’s one hefty fish that has no need to fear its predators. The Brazilian arapaima has evolved an impenetrable layer of armored scales that protect it from the piranha’s bite.

When UC San Diego researchers took a closer look at this remarkable fish, they saw potential for an entirely new kind of military grade body armor.

Professor Marc Meyers of UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering leads the team that, inspired by arapaima, is developing a class of high-tech ceramic materials that are hard, light and flexible.

“I was fishing for arapaima and realized that they live in lakes infested with piranha,” said Meyers.

Meyers began to wonder about the properties of this special fish. As he reviewed the existing literature, he was surprised to discover that no one had studied the arapaima’s resistance to the piranha’s deadly bite.

“The arapaima has unique armor. It has a surface layer that is highly mineralized and therefore hard. This rides on a foundation made of collagen organized in cross-plied layers. Thus, the scales are both hard and flexible.”

Soon, the arapaima’s superpower will be more widely applied – as Meyer’s new, flexible ceramics make possible a range of products, from bullet-proof body armor to puncture-resistant packaging.