by Staff Writers
Erlangen, Germany (SPX) Jan 20, 2016
Materials scientists at FAU have shown for the first time that the mother-of-pearl in clam shells does not form in a crystallisation process but is a result of the aggregation of nanoparticles within an organic matrix. This could lead to a better understanding of the structure of biomaterials which may be useful in the development of new high-performance ceramics. The findings of the research group led by Prof. Dr. Stephan E. Wolf have been published in the latest issue of the renowned journal Nature Communications (doi: 10.1038/ncomms10097).
Prof. Wolf and his team used a special technique to investigate the structure of mother-of-pearl. Using a diamond wire saw, they cut a 60-centimetre wedge out of the shell of a large Pinna nobilis - a type of clam found in the Mediterranean - which they then polished using a novel method before examining it under a scanning transmission electron microscope.
'We borrowed the wedge-polishing technique from the semiconductor industry,' Stephan Wolf explains. 'This method makes it possible to look at extremely large areas, something that was very difficult to do before.'
Traditional model disproved
'Here we find the first nanoparticles of between 50 and 80 nanometres in size that aggregate more and more as they get closer to the inside of the shell and merge to form mother-of-pearl platelets, finally forming the highly structured mother-of-pearl that we all know.'
Prefabrication in nature
'If we compare the growth process of mother-of-pearl to building a house, the clam uses a kind of prefabricated construction method, while crystallisation is like building a wall out of individual bricks,' Stephan Wolf explains.
An incredibly strong structure
'Individual platelets that are around 350 to 500 nanometres thick are embedded in an organic layer that holds them together like cement,' Stephan Wolf says. 'The fact that this layer structure is made up of smaller particles that also include organic material has a significant influence on the mechanical properties of the clam shell. A comparable crystalline material made of individual ions would break much more quickly.'
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