(September 29, 2015) ETH material researchers are developing a procedure that allows them to mimic the complex fine structure of biological composite materials, such as teeth or seashells. They can thus create synthetic materials that are as hard and tough as their natural counterparts.
There are few tougher, more durable structures in nature than teeth or seashells. The secret of these materials lies in their unique fine structure: they are composed of different layers in which numerous micro-platelets are joined together, aligned in identical orientation in each layer.
Although methods exist that allow material scientists to imitate nacre, it was a challenge to create a material that imitates the entire seashell, with comparable properties and structural complexity.
Now a group of researchers led by André Studart, Professor of Complex Materials, has developed a new procedure that mimics the natural model almost perfectly. The scientists were able to produce a tough, multi-layered material based on the construction principle of teeth or seashells. The ETH researchers managed, for the first time, to re-create in a single complex piece the multiple layers of micro-platelets with identical orientation in each layer.
It is a procedure the ETH researchers call magnetically assisted slip casting (MASC). “The wonderful thing about our new procedure is that it builds on a 100-year-old technique and combines it with modern material research,” says Studart’s doctoral student Tobias Niebel, co-author of a study just published in the specialist journal Nature Materials.