Mother of pearl created in lab

Mother of pearl created in lab

Scientists have created an artificial mother of pearl by synthesising the strong, iridescent coating found on the inside of some molluscs.

Researchers from Cambridge University manufactured a material which has a similar structure, mechanical behaviour and optical appearance like that of nacre found in nature. Nacre, known as mother of pearl is the iridescent coating that is found on the inside of some molluscs and on the outer coating of pearls.

In order to create the artificial nacre researchers recreated the biological steps that form nacre in molluscs. They ensured the calcium carbonate, which is the primary component of nacre, does not crystallise when precipitating from the solution. This was done by using a mixture of ions and organic components in the solution that mimics how molluscs control this. Next, the precipitate layer was covered by an organic layer that had 10-nm wide pores.
Finally, crystallisation was induced, and all steps were repeated to create a stack of alternating crystalline and organic layers.

“Crystals have a characteristic shape that reflects their atomic structure, and it is very difficult to modify this shape. Nature is, however, able to do this, and through our research we were able to gain insight into how it grows these materials. Essentially, we have created a new recipe for mother of pearl using nature’s cookbook,” Professor Ulli Steiner, of the Department of Physics’ Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement.

“While many composite engineering materials outperform nacre, its synthesis entirely at ambient temperatures in an aqueous environment, as well as its cheap ingredients, may make it interesting for coating applications.” Alex Finnemore of the Department of Physics’ Cavendish Laboratory, said.

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