Snail Shells Are Inspiring Tomorrow’s Toughest Materials

Later On

Materials science is fascinating. Take, for example, why abalone shells are so tough. Stephen Buranyi writes in Motherboard:

At McGill University’s ​Laboratory for Advanced Materials and Bioinspiration, researchers are shaping hexagonal plates into tough, bendable armour, like the scales of a fish, and making glass that doesn’t shatter, but bends and absorbs force.

Across the Atlantic, at the ​Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials in Aachen, Germany, another group is developing flexible nanoclay sheets—thinner than paper and completely translucent—that are impervious to flame and gas.

What both teams have in common is an interest in sea snails— ​abalone snails, specifically—whose shells have fascinated biologists and engineers since the mid-1970s. The shells are made of a material called nacre, which is composed almost entirely of a brittle mineral. But because of the way the mineral is organized, in sheets with tiny amounts of plastic-like proteins creating a complex system of…

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