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Sea shells inspire better building materials

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March 10, 2010

The structure of sea shells has inspired scientists to create a new material with similar ...

The structure of sea shells has inspired scientists to create a new material with similar qualities (Photo by seriocomico)

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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-...

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.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
4 Comments

And people think there is no God.

Whynot
11th March, 2010 @ 07:36 am PST

Yup! His creations all around us are being studied anew and in different ways and continue to astound us every day!

Will, the tink
14th March, 2010 @ 06:36 pm PDT

Or unless you believe in Mother Nature, but who really cares? Life is AMAZING!

Facebook User
18th March, 2010 @ 08:45 pm PDT

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

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
6th April, 2010 @ 09:11 pm PDT
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