Synthetic mother of pearl makes bioplastics fireproof

Researchers from the University of Connecticut have made a strong and fireproof material by mimicking the structure of mother of pearl. The synthetic material takes only a few minutes to construct and can be applied to a variety of surfaces such as bioplastics, which are not always fireproof.

Mother of pearl, also known as nacre, is a shiny pearl-coloured material naturally found in mollusc shells. The material is brittle and dense and built up of layers of aragonite, which are separated by organic polymers such as chitin. Chitin is a biodegradable and fibrous material, abundant in the cell walls of fungi and the exoskeleton of insects and crustaceans. Although aragonite is formed naturally from a layering progress, the Connecticut researchers have designed a synthetic material that can be used from the first application. 

The synthetic material is formed from clay and is placed in water, which is then exposed to ultrasonic pulses, which binds the layers of clay together. Strips of plastic are then coated with the clay-based mixture and hung up, allowing the layers of clay to align as gravity pulls the mixture downwards. The material is then placed into an oven, which dries the polymer between the layers of clay. The resulting material is airtight, 60% more resilient than stainless steel, and does not burn when subjected to fire.

The material is constructed at room temperature, making it a sustainable progress when compared to other synthetic materials which only form at higher temperatures. As the material is fireproof, it can be used in the construction industry and also the packaging industry, replacing aluminium in food packets, for example, which are linked to human health issues. 

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By Anna Marks


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