Biomimicry technological innovation inspired by nature is one of the hottest ideas in science but has yet to yield many practical advances. Time for a change. Scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have mimicked the structure of mother of pearl to create what may well be the toughest ceramic ever produced.
Through the controlled freezing of suspensions in water of an aluminum oxide (alumina) and the addition of a well known polymer, polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), a team of researchers has produced ceramics that are 300 times tougher than their constituent components. The team was led by Robert Ritchie, who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of California, Berkeley.
"We have emulated nature's toughening mechanisms to make ice-templated alumina hybrids that are comparable in specific strength and toughness to aluminum alloys," says Ritchie. "We believe these model materials can be used to identify key microstructural features that should guide the future synthesis of bio-inspired, yet non-biological, light-weight structural materials with unique strength and toughness."
The results of this research were reported in the December 5, 2008 issue of the journal Science, in a paper entitled: "Tough, bio-inspired hybrid materials." Co-authoring the paper with Ritchie were Etienne Munch, Max Launey, Daan Hein Alsem, Eduardo Saiz and Antoni Tomsia.
Mother of pearl, or nacre, the inner lining of the shells of abalone, mussels and certain other mollusks, is renowned for both its iridescent beauty and its amazing toughness. Nacre is 95-percent aragonite, a hard but brittle calcium carbonate mineral, with the rest of it made up of soft organic molecules. Yet nacre can be 3,000 times (in energy terms) more resistant to fracture than aragonite. No human-synthesi
|Contact: Lynn Yarris|
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory