The Abalone Shell The Miracle Fiber

Man has developed many synthetic fibers that can do some amazing things. DuPont has a synthetic fiber called kevlar which is incredibly strong and may actually be used in construction or in the toughest parts of car bodies. Other synthetic fibers like silicone rubber are tough and elastic. Man has had a hard time making a synthetic fiber that is both strong and elastic, but recent studies of abalone shells at the University of California at Santa Barbara may soon make that possible.

The abalone shell is about 3,000 times more fracture resistant than a single crystal of the material of which the shell is made-calcium carbonate. The key is a polymer adhesive made up of protein molecules. The protein has a unique modular structure that resembles a series of springs linked together. The springs are uncoiled one at a time when the molecule is stressed, thus protecting the molecules of calcium carbonate. When the stress is released, the springs coil back to their original structure.

By copying God's design for the abalone shell, scientists hope to develop synthetic fibers for high performance applications. Many things man has done have been simply copies of the wonder-working hand that has gone before. -Reference: Advanced Materials and Processes, November, 1999.

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