Scientists have synthesised the strong, shiny coating known as the mother of pearl or nacre, found on the inside of some molluscs, by mimicking nature’s way of creating it.
Molluscs are a group of invertebrates that includes squid, octopuses, cuttlefish, nudibranchs, snails, slugs, limpets, sea hares, mussels, clams, oysters, scallops.
Researchers at Cambridge University say the finding could pave the way for tough industrial coatings made from inexpensive and abundant materials.
The synthetic nacre was created using calcium carbonate, the primary ingredient, and a mixture of ions and organic components in a solution that mimics how molluscs control the precipitation of the calcium carbonate and form layers of mother of pearl on surfaces.
“Crystals have a characteristic shape that reflects their atomic structure, and it is very difficult to modify this shape,” said Ulli Steiner, professor of physics at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Lab, who led the study, the journal Nature Communications reported.
“Nature is, however, able to do this, and through our research we were able to gain insight into how it grows these materials. Essentially, we have created a new recipe for mother of pearl using nature’s cookbook,” added Steiner, according to a university statement.
Alex Finnemore, also a physicist at the Cavendish Lab, said: “While many composite engineering materials outperform nacre, its synthesis entirely at ambient temperatures in an aqueous environment, as well as its cheap ingredients, may make it interesting for coating applications. Once optimised, the process is simple and can easily be automated.”