Next For Airplanes, Mother-of-Pearl Skins?

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Scientists from the University of Dayton Research Institute have manipulated the process of shell and pearl formation in oysters to demonstrate a method for depositing pearl-like coatings onto various metal surfaces, such as an aircraft, according to the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which is funding the study. The findings could lead to the development of new lightweight, durable coatings that would protect aircraft from impact and corrosion, the USAF said. The Air Force currently uses protective ceramic coatings on aircraft for various purposes, but officials said this new nonhazardous process could create ceramics at room temperature and pressure. Existing methods require a high-temperature, high-pressure environment.

Doug Hansen, a University of Dayton Research Institute senior research scientist, maintains live oysters in the lab and uses them to demonstrate ceramic deposition inside and outside of the organism. The researchers insert small pieces of metal into the oysters, which triggers the formation of pearl. They also take blood cells out of the oysters, which when placed on metal behave as if they are growing a shell on the surface.