With a $716 billion budget and the mission to be the best at everything, the Pentagon finds some pretty creative ways of going about it. No, they didn't have an actual underground boxing club among the military's highest-ranking chiefs at the Pentagon (that we know of), but they did have some experiments that could have proven fruitful in giving America's enemies a black eye.
The only problem is that Congress found out about it. That's why the first rule is not to talk about it.
The Mantis Shrimp, club cocked (more on that later).
In 2015, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake decided he was going to take on wasteful spending, releasing a "Wastebook" that detailed what he believed was government spending run amok.
Quoting the movie Fight Club, Flake says, "We buy things we don't need with money we don't have," in the Wastebook, which is titled The Farce Awakens. Flake is referring to a $706,800 research grant given to Duke University researchers, who allegedly used it to pit 68 Panamanian mantis shrimp against each other to see who would win and why.
"To see so much money so outlandishly wasted, it's clear that Washington's ballyhooing over budget austerity is a farce," Flake said. "Hopefully, this report gives Congress – which only ever seems to agree when it comes to spending money – something to Chewie on before the taxpayers strike back."
This is the cover of the wastebook, no joke.
But the study wasn't really useless, as it turns out. In fact, there's an entire field of science called biomimetics dedicated to the idea of solving human problems with abilities and designs from animals found in nature. Duke University was doing research in just that vein. So far, they've been able to harness the mantis shrimp's weapons and armor for human needs. It turns out the mantis shrimp (neither mantis nor shrimp) is one of the ocean's premier brawlers.
The study didn't really spend $700,000 on a fight club of shrimp. The grant covered the entire span of research on the mantis shrimp. What they discovered is a roving tank on the ocean floor. Its two main appendages act as underwater clubs to knock its prey out in a single punch – and that punch is what had the researchers so fascinated.
Did you see that? I doubt it. Read on!
The mantis shrimp punch goes from an underwater standing start to 50mph in the blink of an eye. It generates 1,500 newtons of force, the equivalent of a 340-pound rock hitting you in the face. If a human could manage 1/10th of that force with its arms, we'd be chucking baseballs into low Earth orbit. To top it all off, those clubs pop out with the velocity of a .22-caliber bullet (one that isn't underwater) and the sudden change in water pressure causes the water around them to boil at several thousand degrees Kelvin. If the punch doesn't kill the prey, the punch's shockwave still can.
But wait, there's more.
The researchers also wanted to know how mantis shrimp defend against this kind of attack – how their natural armor protects them from other mantis shrimp super weapons. This punch goes right through the shells worn by crabs and clams as well as the natural protections of some species of fish (and aquarium glass, FYI. In case you're thinking you want one). The clubs themselves are also intensely durable, maintaining their performance throughout the mantis shrimp's lifespan.
Its primary weapon is a complex system of three main regions, all lightweight and durable, tougher than many engineered ceramics. Civilian applications could improve the performance of cars and airplanes while military applications include body armor and armor for vehicles and potentially aircraft.
"That's the holy grail for materials engineers," said University of California professor and researcher David Kisailus, who is pioneering such studies these days.
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