Rarely do scientists mention seashells and optical coatings in the same sentence. That may soon change now that researchers at the US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque have disclosed a means of self-assembling diverse materials into coatings that mimic seashell structures. The unique process permits the formation of transparent coatings suitable for use in optical lenses.
Besides being transparent, these coatings also proved tough and resistant to cracking. This could be explained by the structuring of the polymers, which, like seashells, feature alternating layers of flexible biopolymers with hard layers of calcium carbonate. Cracks that start at the calcium carbonate level are stopped by the polymer level.