Although recognized for its beauty for centuries, mother of pearl (aka nacre), has only recently been recognized as having technological applications. Scientists around the world have spent decades and millions of dollars studying nacre because it is such a tough and strong material. Abalone shells are the real estate of choice for the oysters, mussels and other mollusks that live inside them, explain Kalpana Katti and Dinesh Katti of North Dakota U.
“Nature has made this as the best armor material,” explains Kalpana, tapping on the outside of a red abalone shell. “The outside layer is very hard. The inside layer is very tough. That means the outside layer will take impact. The inside layer will absorb energy if the outside layer breaks. That’s exactly how armor works.” The strong, tough structure can be captivating for those who like to solve mysteries. “Strong means it can take a lot of load before it breaks. Tough means it will give a little. This is very unique,� explains Kalpana. “Most engineered composites are one or the other.” Military and aerospace applications are envisaged.