Researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have discovered the secret behind the toughness of deer antlers and how they can resist breaking during fights.

Antlers are made of calcium and phosphorus. By using state-of-the-art computer modelling and x-ray techniques, the team investigated the antler structure at the nano level and were able to identify the mechanisms at work.

“The fibrils that make up the antler are staggered rather than in line with each other. This allows them to absorb the energy from the impact of a clash during a fight,” said study co-author Paolino De Falco.

QMUL says that the research, published in the journal ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering, opens up possibilities for the creation of a new generation of damage-resistant composites.

“Our next step is to create a 3D printed model with fibres arranged in staggered configuration and linked by an elastic interface,” said study co-author Dr. Ettore Barbieri. “The aim is to prove that additive manufacturing – where a prototype can be created a layer at a time – can be used to create damage resistant composite material.”

In the United States, similar research has been done at Purdue University and the University of California Riverside. However, instead of deer antlers, researchers used a mantis shrimp’s impact-resistant claw, also known as a “dactyl club,” to discover strong structural properties using the shrimp’s herringbone structure, synthetic materials and a 3-D printer.