Science

Sea shells inspire better building materials

The structure of sea shells has inspired scientists to create a new material with similar qualities (Photo by seriocomico)
The structure of sea shells has inspired scientists to create a new material with similar qualities (Photo by seriocomico)
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Artificially-colored images of calcite crystals with polymer inclusions, within the newly-developed polymer
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Artificially-colored images of calcite crystals with polymer inclusions, within the newly-developed polymer
The structure of sea shells has inspired scientists to create a new material with similar qualities (Photo by seriocomico)
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The structure of sea shells has inspired scientists to create a new material with similar qualities (Photo by seriocomico)

Seashells have done an exemplary job of protecting their inhabitants for around a hundred million years, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that scientists and chemists have now replicated their unique structure in a manmade material. Taking inspiration from shells, researchers from the University of Manchester and the University of Leeds have successfully reinforced calcium carbonate, or chalk, with polystyrene particles such as those used in disposable drinking cups. Their achievement could lead to stronger building and bone replacement materials, or other practical applications.

By combining calcite crystals with polystyrene particles, the scientists created a ceramic polymer that is less brittle than chalk, and thus less prone to cracking. When the material did crack, they noticed that the polymer lengthened within the cracks, instead of simply snapping – this is a known mechanism for absorbing energy and enhancing durability. By selecting particles of different shapes, sizes and composition, the scientists said the properties of the material could be tweaked for different purposes. And no, seashells don’t contain polystyrene, but they do contain proteins that serve a similar purpose. 

Artificially-colored images of calcite crystals with polymer inclusions, within the newly-developed polymer
Artificially-colored images of calcite crystals with polymer inclusions, within the newly-developed polymer

Dr. Stephen Eichhorn, from the University of Manchester, stated, “Further research and testing is still needed, but our research potentially offers a straightforward method of engineering new and tough chalk-based composite materials with a wide range of useful applications.”

The research has recently been published in the journal Advanced Materials.

4 comments
Whynot
And people think there is no God.
Will, the tink
Yup! His creations all around us are being studied anew and in different ways and continue to astound us every day!
Facebook User
Or unless you believe in Mother Nature, but who really cares? Life is AMAZING!
Anumakonda Jagadeesh
Revival of ancient technology. Natural fibrous material have been used in construction industries. Palm oil fibre,sisal agave chips are some examples. Bamboo frames are used as replacement of steel for window inner wall. The tensile strength of bamboo is quite high. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India