To build a better form of armor, a group of chemists have created a molecule that looks like a six-pointed "Star of David." When millions of these molecules knit themselves together, the result could become the lightest, strongest shielding the world has ever known.

Image of the molecule via David Leigh's lab

A group of chemists report their discovery this week in Nature Chemistry, explaining that their star molecule was based on molecules found in the light, tough shells of viruses. They actually hit on this idea after immersing themselves in years of research done by chemists trying to knit molecules together. They realized that maybe they should build molecules that naturally interweave as they assemble.

Over at the Washington Post, Rachel Feltman writes:

But learning how to make interweaving molecules is a challenge, [chemist David] Leigh said — one that chemists have been working at for over 25 years. The trick his team used was to let the molecules assemble themselves.

"Most have tried to take linear molecules and twist them around each other," Leigh said, "But we choose our building blocks very carefully."

The shape is made of two molecular triangles that interweave with each other three times, creating a star with a perimeter of only 114 atoms. Instead of having to bend the triangles into place, the chemists chose triangles that would interweave on their own as they formed. "Nature does the same thing to assemble the double helix in DNA," Leigh said.

Read the full scientific article from Nature Chemistry