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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/J009121/1
Title: Shell inspiration: turning nature’s secrets into engineering solutions
Principal Investigator: Yin, Professor H
Other Investigators:
Cusack, Professor M
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: School of Engineering
Organisation: University of Glasgow
Scheme: First Grant - Revised 2009
Starts: 07 September 2012 Ends: 06 September 2014 Value (£): 100,176
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Microsystems Synthetic biology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Manufacturing Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
03 Nov 2011 Materials, Mechanical and Medical Engineering Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The properties of a material are strongly affected by its microscopic structure, a phenomenon that can often be seen in nature. This is clearly evident in the shells of molluscs such as mussels. These seashells exhibit magnificently diverse shapes, patterns and colours. In addition, they have a toughness similar to steel whilst being much lighter. These fascinating characteristics are the result of the way that shells are made from organised building blocks of calcium carbonate (the mineral found in chalk). In nature, the combination of these building blocks is exquisitely controlled throughout growth.

The ability to use nature's secrets learned from shell growth would be invaluable in manufacturing high performance materials with unprecedented properties. To realise this, we first need to learn how nature controls the formation and assembly of the building blocks of a shell - calcium carbonate. In this proposal, we will develop a new approach to enable an in-depth understanding of this natural controlling process, and then exploit the knowledge for producing novel material that are inspired by nature. At the core of our approach is the "Electronically Programmable Microfluidic Fountain Array" (EPMFA), a tool to create biomimetic conditions for the investigation. The EPMFA will enable us to control all of the aspects of organising building blocks (such as calcium carbonate), from features only visible with the best microscopes; through to the overall shape and size of the material that we are creating.

We will start off with a focus on a single example material, Mother-of-Pearl, and then exploit what we have learnt to create novel structures based on the same building blocks. This new material will be specifically designed so that it could be used as part of a medical implant, with properties that would greatly benefit bone reconstruction or joint replacement.

We envisage the knowledge gained will significantly enhance our abilities in creative manufacturing, and will benefit a very wide range of areas, from medicine to climate change. By using building blocks beyond calcium carbonate, our techniques will let us design and manufacture new materials with unique combinations of optical, magnetic, electronic, chemical and mechanical properties. The uses for these materials will be almost endless.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
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Organisation Website: http://www.gla.ac.uk