Oysters provide key to super-tough coatings for metals

By Peter Kent

oyster shell in a hand; photo by peter kent

The military and industry need ways to protect equipment in harsh environments. A Clemson scientist has had success in manipulating oyster blood cells to deposit nacre, the material used to form shell and pearl, on to aluminum, titanium and stainless-steel alloy surfaces.  This research holds promise to create super-tough coatings that will resist corrosion and reduce drag.

Marine biologist Andrew Mount determined that oyster hemocytes – blood cells – are responsible for shell and pearl formation. His findings led to an experiment to test whether or not oyster blood cells removed from the animal would trigger nacre deposition. The results were exciting.

“We saw oyster blood cells acting like they do when they grow shell, but they were growing on metal,” said Mount. “This opens up a new realm for coatings and for growing structures that would be very hard and very tough in harsh environments and be lightweight at the same time.”   

Mount’s research is already attracting attention from U.S. Air Force and industry.

For information: Andrew Mount, 864-656-3597, mount@clemson.edu