Self-Healing in Mollusks, Lessons from Biology
We will study major mechanisms of self-healing in Molluscan hard tissues taking lessons from biology. We are interested in mollusks because of the ease in monitoring the healing process using existing characterization techniques. The ability to self-heal their non-living hard tissues externally, make mollusks remarkable from both an evolutionary perspective and a materials perspective. Biological systems have evolved to repair their own hard tissues such as bone and dentin, but bone and tooth repair is accomplished with a specific blood supply for nutrient delivery at the cellular level. The Molluscan process of "self-healing" takes place in an aqueous environment where there are no direct supplies of nutrients. In fact the nutrients may be washed away from the injury site with the flow of water. This self-healing process is interesting to materials scientists as a possible model for synthesizing new Smart materials that do not need an in situ location for growth and gaining insight into biomineralization and its interaction with the organics regulating the process.
This project will focus on two objectives firstly understanding the growth rates of shell deposition, growth and scar formation and secondly characterizing the biomineralization, microstructure, and mechanical properties of scar tissue as compared to normal tissue. By performing controlled injury experiments on two mollusk species, we can initiate the self-healing process and characterize all phases of its development. Using mechanical tests including micro-bend tests and atomic force microscopy with nanoindentation we can determine the hardness, micro-hardness, Young's modulus, strength and ductility of the self-healed tissue. In addition, scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, and x-ray crystallography will be used to determine the characteristics of the self-healed tissues.
Molluscan self-healing is an excellent model for a self-assembly, highly organized and rapid. Could this biological lesson be applied to synthetic materials systems, we may be able to engineer a new generation of materials with the ability to heal themselves in aqueous environment or in body fluids.