Stronger yet Incredibly Inexpensive: Seashell-Inspired Protective Coating Outperforms Conventional Materials

By: | May 10th, 2022

Image by Pixabay

For thousands of years, we have appreciated seashells for their beauty as ornaments and utility as tools.  Seashells are extremely tough; they can withstand harsh environmental conditions due to their unique structure.

But no one has ever tried to utilize a shell’s strength and toughness

Now, a team of researchers at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico (UNM) have developed a method to self-assemble diverse materials into coatings that mimic seashell structures.

The seashell-inspired tough, strong, and optically transparent material could be greatly useful for several applications. Especially in spacecraft shielding to keep the weight and costs down which is crucial for space launches.

The incredibly cheap material costs just 25 cents per 2-inch (5 cm) square. In comparison, similar-sized beryllium, the other material with the closest thermal and mechanical properties, costs hundreds of dollars.

Apart from the cost, this material is also exceptionally heat-resistant that can survive up to 1,500 °C (2,732 °F) temperature.

Sandia researcher Guangping Xu, who led the development of the new coating said, “A material that can survive a variety of insults — mechanical, shock and X-ray — can be used to withstand harsh environmental conditions,”

 “That material has not been readily available. We believe our layered nanocomposite, mimicking the structure of a seashell, is that answer.”

 “The self-assembled coating is not only lightweight and mechanically strong but also thermally stable enough to protect instruments in experimental fusion machines against their own generated debris where temperatures maybe about 1,500 C. This was the initial focus of the work.”

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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