PerspectiveBiological Materials

Coherent nanoparticles in calcite

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Science  08 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6368, pp. 1254-1255
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0111

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Living organisms use a wide range of minerals to perform a variety of functions, including familiar examples such as bones (for support), teeth (for mastication), and shells (for protection), as well as other less common functions, such as optical, magnetic, and gravity sensing. These biominerals are produced with elements that are present in the local environment under ambient conditions. The ability to mimic biological strategies to improve current materials and processing methods is a long-standing goal of material scientists. On page 1294 of this issue, Polishchuk et al. (1) characterized the properties of a biomineral in the skeleton of the brittlestar, Ophiocoma wendtii. An array of microlenses on their skeletons focus light onto an optical receptor, enabling them to detect shadows and hide from predators. Nanoprecipitates in these lenses also toughen the skeleton, an effect that is achieved in engineered metal alloys only through expensive heat treatments.