Gleaming, iridescent mother-of-pearl possesses more than beauty. The material, technically called nacre, has strength and toughness that materials scientists envy because it's made of highly ordered layers.
Now, researchers have designed a synthetic material that mimics both nacre's internal architecture and its strength.
Nicholas Kotov of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater and his colleagues modeled their material after natural mother-of-pearl, which gets its properties from a brick-and-mortar structure of calcium carbonate held together by a network of proteins. Natural nacre also benefits from so-called sacrificial ionic bonds between proteins, which break under stress but can reform.