Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Scientists look to nature for ways to fill material needs

NATURALLY BETTER:A team of researchers has been studying animals to upgrade materials, such as by copying the structure of a sponge to soften glass

By Lee I-chia  /  Staff reporter

Researchers from National Tsing Hua University yesterday presented the results of their latest research on biological and bio-inspired materials to the National Science Council, which showed that the study of biomaterials could have invaluable applications, such as by mimicking the texture of shark skin to develop bacteria-resistant surface materials.

Chen Po-yu (陳柏宇), an assistant professor in the school’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said that with intensive analysis of biological materials, materials science and engineering researchers are able to mimick the natural biomaterials’ characteristics to synthesize new materials or improve existing ones to fulfil specific needs.

Citing as an example the structure of the large, but lightweight, beak of toucans inspiring work on aviation materials, or the mimicking of the structure of sponges to produce softer glass, Chen said there was great promise in looking to the natural world for solutions to modern society’s needs.

Chen said that the university is also conducting research on how to produce bacteria-resistant surface materials by mimicking the structure and characteristics of shark skin and lotus flowers.

In addition, he said that the school’s research on abalone shells has shown that although the main component of the shells — calcium carbonate — is the same as that found in chalk, the shell’s texture is much tougher because of its unique multilayer structure and other substances that are mixed into it. These findings could lead to breakthrough inventions in the synthesis of protective materials.

Duh Jenq-Gong (杜正恭), a chair professor from the same department, said that in contrast to some of the earlier methods employed in materials science and engineering research, such as trying to produce tougher materials by combining various non-organic substances, studying natural biomaterials and structures has given researchers a new perspective.

Meanwhile, university president Chen Lih-juann (陳力俊) commended Chen Po-yu for having been invited to co-write a paper on structural biological materials by the internationally renowned Science magazine.

Chen Po-yu may be the first Taiwanese professor to have been received such an honor, he said.

The research paper, titled Structural Biological Materials: Critical Mechanics-Materials Connections was published in February.

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