Home / Blog / SeaShells have something to teach us

SeaShells have something to teach us

Quite often I post news on researchers looking at Nature to solve problems, and this is just another one.

At the MIT researchers wanted to understand why the materials we are manufacturing to use as shields for protection tend to loose their strength after having been subjected to a localised trauma. Thinks about a windshield of a car. It is quite robust but if a pebble hits it does not just create a tiny dent on the impact point, chances are that the whole windshield, immediately or over days and week, will transform into a web of broken glass. Injuries spread around.

Not so in the case of seashells. A traumatic impact on the shell may break it where the impact occurs but does not diminish the overall strength.

By analysing at the electron microscope the deformation at the point of impact researchers have seen that the nano-deformation of the structure are self protecting one another so that the damage goes not expand. Additionally, they have seen that the way the molecules are organised lead to a high dissipation of energy that is what you want to have to keep the damage localised.

The material of the shell (mostly calcite) changes its structure as the impact strikes through a process called twinning where each crystal breaks up into a pair of symmetrical regions forming a sort of dam that keeps damage locally. Interestingly this not just preserves the robustness of the material on the global scale, it also preserve its transparency (if the material is transparent to start with). 

Now the plan is to replicate these nanostructure in artificial materials to get the same kind of characteristics.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.