By AOPA ePublishing staff
Scientists are once again turning to the ocean to find solutions for aerospace. This time they’re irritating oysters and not feeling the slightest bit bad about it.
The University of Dayton Research Institute is conducting experiments where they prompt oysters to produce pearl-like metal coatings. They do this by manipulating oyster blood cells to deposit nacre—a natural calcium carbonate ceramic material used for shell and pearl formation—on aluminum, titanium, and stainless-steel alloys.
“We’re seeing oyster blood cells behaving as if they are growing a shell, but on metal and away from the oyster,” said Doug Hansen, UDRI senior research scientist. “Our goal is to grow these ceramic films with a great deal of control over thickness and location onto materials that require strong but lightweight protection.”
In addition to their strength and low weight, biological ceramics are especially attractive because they are non-hazardous to the environment and can be created safely at room temperature and pressure. Current ceramic coatings, on the other hand, comprise multiple layers of toxic components and are produced under high-temperature, high-pressure conditions.
“Nacre is one of nature’s superior materials in terms of strength and adhesive properties,” Hansen said. “When its shell is damaged, an oyster rushes resources to the site to quickly build a layer of interim protection against predators and begin shell repair. As coatings, they can last a lifetime.”
With a $20,000 seed grant from the Ohio Board of Regents for biomedical purposes, researchers demonstrated enough initial success to interest the Air Force in funding a larger project related to protective coatings for aircraft.
In addition to corrosion inhibition and medical uses such as bone growth, there might be applications for this technology in optical materials, biological semiconductors, and permanent adhesives.
April 22, 2008