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Form enhances function in biological crystals

NSF Award:

Structure of Mollusk Shells at Different Length-Scales  (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

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A team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has shown that mineralized tissues created by living organisms have crystal forms that differ markedly from those of geologic mineral crystals. Geologic mineral crystals usually have flat faces and sharp edges, whereas biomineral crystals can have strikingly uncommon forms that have evolved to enhance function.

Understanding how living creatures create highly functional mineralized structures can help scientists devise new methods to generate new ceramic and glasslike materials that are both strong and light in weight.

This work is part of a significant effort by biomaterials researchers to mimic the processes by which living systems generate functional materials with unusual and useful properties.


  • the crystal structure of a sea urchin tooth
The crystal structure of a sea urchin tooth visualized through an electron microscope.
Pupa Gilbert and Christopher Killian, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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