Nature has been remarkably clever about creating materials that combine mineral (hard) and organic (soft) components in a way that provides properties that are extremely well suited to function; this is the process of biomineralisation. A graphic example is the calcium carbonate shells (coccoliths) grown around some algal cells: exploiting complex polysaccharides and membranes these algae grow CaCO3 structures that are vastly more intricate, and on much smaller scales, than is currently possible in a laboratory (see figure). The distinctive properties of bone and egg or mollusc shells similarly derive from the unique mixtures of hard and soft matter involved.
This is an ambitious project designed to develop a working understanding of how this control is worked out in natural systems, so that we can use the same techniques to develop new materials with specially tailored properties. Achieving this requires major developments in both our ability to model materials, and in the experimental methods available to characterise such materials with a resolution that spans nanometers to meters. Our research programme to do this has identified a number of overlapping themes, each of which addresses a major aspect of biomineralisation.
- Nucleation (theme leader: Mark Rodger)
- Molecules and Surfaces (theme leader: Mike Allen)
- Biocomposites (theme leader: James Elliott)
- Aggregation and Growth (theme leader: Fiona Meldrum)
- Cells and Minerals (theme leader: Steve Banwart)
- Templating and Confinement (theme leader: Dorothy Duffy)