Researchers have finally discovered the secret behind some of nature's most beautiful - and perfect - creations: pearls. Here's what a recent study says about why the natural beauties are incredibly symmetrical and what that means for the future of humankind.
If you've ever seen one in real life, it's no secret that the little pearls created by oysters and other soft-bodied invertebrates are pretty breathtaking. It's hard to believe nature can create such a smooth, round, and perfect surface - until now. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explains that the picture-perfect appearance comes from a complicated natural process that follows mathematical patterns.
Pearls are made up of nacre, a protective material built by mollusk creatures to protect themselves against any external danger that gets inside their shell. "Nacre is this incredibly beautiful, iridescent, shiny material that we see in the insides of some seashells or on the outside of pearls," explained Laura Otter, a biochemist at the Australian National University in Canberra. As it grows, this protective material fixes growth aberrations and adapts its thickness to ensure a smooth and round appearance.
The new study is ground-breaking in its conclusion "that nacre self-heals and when a defect arises, it heals itself within a few [layers], without using an external scaffolding or template," said Pupa Gilbert, a physicist at the University of Wisconson Madison not involved with the research. She added, "Nacre is an even more remarkable material than we had previously appreciated."
"These humble creatures are making a super light and super tough material so much more easily and better than we do with all our technology," Otter expanded. Nacre is composed of three ingredients: carbonate, calcium, and protein. Yet it is "3,000 times tougher than the materials from which it's made of," Laura detailed.
And that reality brings new hope for the future. Rover Hovden is a co-author on the recent study and a materials scientist engineer at the University of Michigan. He explained that the research could lead to "the next generation of super materials." As for what that entails? Anything from tougher substances used in spacecraft to more robust solar panels.
And once more, nature has proved to be humankind's biggest inspiration and teacher.