Strength is shore thing for sea shell scientists

Mar 08, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists have made synthetic 'sea shells' from a mixture of chalk and polystyrene cups - and produced a tough new material that could make our homes and offices more durable.

A team of materials scientists and chemists have taken inspiration from sea shells found on the beach to create a from dissimilar ‘ingredients’.

Their technique could be used to make ceramics with high resistance to cracking - which could in turn be used in crack-resistant building materials and bone replacements.

Writing in the journal , scientists from The University of Manchester and The University of Leeds report that they have successfully reinforced , or chalk, with particles that are used to make drinks cups.

They have developed an effective method of combining calcite crystals with polystyrene particles - and have found this makes the material more ductile compared to its original brittle form.

They report that the polystyrene also acts as a toughening agent, assisting the prevention of the growth of cracks.

Scientists also observed that when the reinforced material cracked, the polymer lengthened within the cracks - a well-known mechanism for absorbing energy and enhancing .

Researchers say their method allows the properties of the new material to be tweaked by selecting particles of different shapes, sizes and composition.

Dr Stephen Eichhorn from The School of Materials at The University of Manchester, said: “The of shells can rival those of man-made ceramics, which are engineered at high temperatures and pressures. Their construction helps to distribute stress over the structure and control the spread of cracks.

“Calcium carbonate is the main ingredient of chalk, which is very brittle and breaks easily when force is applied. But shells are strong and resistant to fracturing, and this is because the calcium carbonate is combined with proteins which bind the crystals together, like bricks in a wall, to make the material stronger and sometimes tougher.

“We have replicated nature’s addition of proteins using polystyrene, to create a strong shell-like structure with similar properties to those seen in nature.

“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.”

Explore further: Recycling industrial waste water: Scientists discover a new method of producing hydrogen

More information: ‘Bio-Inspired Synthesis and Mechanical Properties of Calcite-Polymer Particle Composites’, Advanced Materials, March 2010.

Related Stories

Engineers 'bone' up on biological materials

May 07, 2008

In a recent feature article published in Materials Research Society's Bulletin, Dr Michelle Oyen explores the potential uses of synthetic bone-like material. Michelle suggests that these materials will be too ...

A crystal clear view of chalk formation

Jan 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- It has a beautiful, but also an unpleasant side: crystallization determines the shape of precious stones, but also causes the lime scale in washing machines. How this comes about, has been ...

A crystal clear view of chalk formation

Jan 12, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- It has a beautiful, but also an unpleasant side: crystallization determines the shape of precious stones, but also causes the lime scale in washing machines. How this comes about, has been ...

U-M team makes synthetic mother of pearl

Mar 17, 2005

It's possible to grow thin films of mother of pearl in the laboratory that are even stronger than the super-strong material that naturally lines the inside of abalone shells. The trick is to add compounds normally found in ...

New approach to understanding cracks

Feb 03, 2006

Could engineers have known ahead of time exactly how much pressure the levees protecting New Orleans could withstand before giving way? Is it possible to predict when and under what conditions material wear and tear will ...

Microscopy reveals structure of calcite shells

Nov 30, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Lara Estroff and colleagues have taken a deep, detailed look at the way lab-created calcite crystals, similar to those found in nature, grow in tandem with proteins and other large molecules.

Recommended for you

A greener source of polyester—cork trees

7 hours ago

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out ...

A beautiful, peculiar molecule

10 hours ago

"Carbon is peculiar," said Nobel laureate Sir Harold Kroto. "More peculiar than you think." He was speaking to a standing-room-only audience that filled the Raytheon Amphitheater on Monday afternoon for the ...

Metals go from strength to strength

Apr 15, 2014

To the human hand, metal feels hard, but at the nanoscale it is surprisingly malleable. Push a lump of metal with brute force through a right-angle mould or die, and while it might look much the same to the ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

A greener source of polyester—cork trees

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out ...

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.

Ebola virus in Africa outbreak is a new strain

The Ebola virus that has killed scores of people in Guinea this year is a new strain—evidence that the disease did not spread there from outbreaks in some other African nations, scientists report.