Lab-Grown Mother of Pearl

Scientists have tried and tried to recreate nacre or mother of pearl, the iridescent material in the inner shell of many mollusks. Their attempts in copying nature have failed ... until now:

The previous attempts to make artificial nacre failed largely because the alternating layers of material didn't hold together—sort of like plywood with bad glue. In the latest research, the scientists solved this delamination problem by alternatively dipping a sheet of material into solutions of a vinyl polymer and an acrylic acid. They then dissolved the dried acid and hardened the remaining polymers by exposing them to ultraviolet light. Finally, the team slathered the porous surface with a noncrystalline form of calcium carbonate, which infiltrated the material and then slowly crystallized when placed in a container of humid air. By repeating this sequence of steps, the researchers created a multilayered coating (on strip at right above) that is tougher and even more iridescent than natural mother-of-pearl.


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