Mother-of-pearl is surprisingly difficult to mimic. Cheap plastic watch faces don't count---they may look like the inside of a seashell, but real mother-of-pearl, or nacre, to give its scientific name, is made of thousands of layers of calcium carbonate, with an intricate, interlocking crystal structure. Because of that, it is phenomenally tough, and engineers would like to be able to use it as an industrial coating. Recently, a team of scientists devised a way to make microscopic layers of calcium carbonate accrete into a very similar crystal structure
, mimicking the process that takes place in shellfish. You can see the result above: a sheet of material with the sheen and the strength of real mother-of-pearl.
Image courtesy of Nature Communications