A tough ceramic’s structure mimics that of abalone shells.
Ceramics are lightweight and hard, but you can’t make jet engines out of them because they’d shatter like dinner plates. So, materials scientists have been trying to mimic natural materials that combine strength (a measure of resistance to deformation) with toughness (a measure of resistance to fracture). In particular, they’ve looked to the porous but resilient material called nacre that lines abalone shells. Now researchers have developed a method for manufacturing nacre-like materials in the lab. These new materials have mechanical properties similar to metal alloys and are the toughest ceramics ever made. The new method could lead the way to ceramic structural materials for energy-efficient buildings and lightweight but resilient automobile frames.