Artificial mother-of-pearl can be made by mimicking the natural process of mineralization.

Mother-of-pearl, or nacre, is remarkably strong yet biodegradable. However, its complex layered structure, in which mineral plates form in an organic scaffold, makes it difficult to recreate in bulk. Shu-Hong Yu at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei and his colleagues built their own matrix by growing sheets of ice, which squeezed a solution of the biopolymer chitosan into solid layers. They then pumped this scaffold with materials to grow calcium carbonate, and pressed the stack to form synthetic nacre.

The synthetic version has similar mechanical properties to its natural counterpart and takes just two weeks to grow. This method could be used to produce materials for use in the aerospace industry or as armour, say the authors.

Science (2016)