A three-part study of lessons from nature is presented through the examination of various biological materials, with an emphasis on materials from the mollusk Haliotis rufescens, commonly referred to as the red abalone. The three categories presented are: structural hierarchy, self-assembly, and functionality.
Ocean mollusk shells are composed of aragonite/calcite crystals interleaved with layers of a visco-elastic protein, having dense, tailored structures with excellent mechanical properties. The complex nano-laminate structure of this bio-composite material is characterized and related to its mechanical properties. Three levels of structural hierarchy are identified: macroscale mesolayers separating larger regions of tiled aragonite, microscale organization of 0.5 µm by 10 µm aragonite bricks; nanoscale mineral bridges passing through 30 nm layers of organic matrix separating individual aragonite tiles.
Composition and growth mechanisms of this nanostructure were observed through close examination of laboratory-grown samples using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Raman spectroscopy, and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Glass slides and nacre pucks were implanted onto the growth surface of living abalone and removed periodically to observe trends in nacre deposition. Various deproteinization and demineralization experiments are used to explore the inorganic and organic components of the nacre’s structure. The organic component of the shell is characterized by atomic force microscopy (AFM).
The functionality of various biological materials is described and investigated. Two specific types of functionality are characterized, the ability of some materials to cut and puncture through sharp designs, and the ability for some materials to be used as attachment devices. Aspects of cutting materials employed by a broad range of animals were characterized and compared. In respect to the attachment mechanisms the foot of the abalone and the tree frog were investigated. It is discovered that the foot of the abalone applies similar mechanics as that of the gecko foot to adhere to surfaces. Approximately 1011 100 nm diameter fibers found at the base of the foot pedal are found to create Van der Waals interactions along with capillary and suction mechanisms to enable attachment. This reusable adhesive is found to exhibit strength of ~0.14 MPa. This represents an evolutionary convergence of design from two independent species (the gecko and the abalone) living in extremely dissimilar environments.
The presented work provides a summary of an effort to investigate materials found in nature with the hope of inspiring novel technological advances in design.
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