Abalone Shell Strength Revealed

Mother-of-pearl looks dainty hanging from a necklace, but this iridescent innard of abalone shells is so tough it can withstand the weight of a truck.

Also called nacre, the material has long puzzled scientists because it is 3,000 times more break-resistant than the mineral that comprises its building blocks, aragonite. Recently, researchers have started to examine the intricacies of the hardy structure in hopes of learning how to replicate it in durable man-made materials.

"We have a lot to learn from nature," said University of Wisconsin-Madison physicist Pupa Gilbert, who co-authored a nacre study published in the June 29 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters. "We don't know how to synthesize materials that are better than the sum of their parts."

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