Did you know that mother of pearl - also called nacre - is not only stunningly beautiful but also one of the strongest materials in nature? The iridescent shimmer found on the lining of the shells of some mollusks like pearl oysters and abalone are typically collected for their eye appeal - but scientists are interested in it for another reason.
According to new research published in ACS Nano, materials engineers are figuring out ways of mimicking the mineral structures of nacre in order to develop a material that could have many applications, ranging from bone implants to structures built on the moon.
The issue up until this point is that previous attempts to mimic the aragonite mineral that make nacre so strong and resilient have utilized microscopic flat stacking bricks. Hemant Raut, Caroline Ross, Javier Fernandez, the scientists behind the new study, decided to spice up that design and try using wavy interlocking bricks more similar to the natural structure found in nacre.
As explained in Eureka Alert, the researchers “made their composite material by forming wavy sheets of the mineral aragonite on a patterned chitosan film. Then, they interlocked two of the sheets together, filling the space between the wavy surfaces with silk fibroin. They stacked 150 interlocked layers together to form a composite that was about the thickness of a penny.”
And it worked! The material they developed was nearly two times stronger and resilient than previous attempts, almost as strong as the real thing! As the scientists write, “The resultant composite, with a similar constitution to that of the biological counterpart, nearly doubles the strength of previous nacre-mimetic composites while improving the tensile toughness and simultaneously exhibiting stiffness and biocompatibility.”
While the material has yet to be incorporated into commercial use, be on the lookout for it soon!