Shell shock

Holding up an abalone shell before a visitor, [Prof. Angela] Belcher describes the moment when the two threads--persistent interest and sudden insight--came together, forming the basis of her current research, which spans inorganic chemistry, materials chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and electrical engineering.

Intrigued since childhood by pearls and pearl-making mollusks, she was impressed by the abalone's shell: it's 98 percent calcium carbonate--what we call chalk, only 3,000 times stronger.

"The abalone makes this amazing material out of a common mineral," she says.

"Suddenly, I wondered, what if we could assemble materials like the abalone does--but not be limited to one element? What if we could bond protein to other elements in the periodic table and grow new materials?"

Prof. Angela Belcher and colleagues Paula Hammond and Yet-Ming Chiang (MIT) are leading research into new nano-materials using self-assembly.  Belcher has engineered bacteriophages (viruses) to attach a wide range of useful compounds and then self-assembly in specific structures.  Her team is currently working on growing all components of rechargeable batteries, including the anode, cathode and electrolyte. Other areas of interest include self-healing materials

Thanks to Eileen Stephens for the pointer!

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