Lightweight Ceramic Coatings Based on Abalone Shells Could Form Tough Armor for Airplanes

Abalone Armor

Paper-thin armor courtesy of natureAndreas Walther

Buildings or commercial jetliners could soon get a protective coating of shatter-resistant armor similar to the material lining abalone shells. Finnish researchers have developed the lightweight reinforcement so that people can simply paint it on whatever structure, reports Technology Review.

The nacre material that protects abalone shells uses interconnected plates of very hard material that is prone to shattering, but combines that with softer yet durable material to create the shatterproof finish. Researchers have long sought to mimic that enviable combo with synthetic materials.

Researchers at the Helsinki University of Science and Technology mixed disc-shaped clay platelets with a soft polymer, polyvinyl alcohol, and water, which created a slurry that could either become paper or paint. The resulting lightweight armor resembles nacre with a structure consisting of nanoclay discs stacked in rows similar to plates in a cupboard, Technology Review notes.

Such material acts as a superb reinforcing armor that adds very little extra weight, but cannot yet replace steel as the main structural support for building beams or engine turbines. But there's an additional plus from the current version, because it shrugs off the heat and fire from flamethrowers with ease.

Other denizens of the deep have also served as inspiration for modern armor -- a deep-sea snail's three-layer shell could be adapted for flak jackets, helmets and Arctic pipelines.