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February 16, 2012
It was known that the urchin spines were resistant components of calcium carbonate, whose natural forms are a more fragile than others.
What is not known is that the spines are especially glass components. Indeed, X-ray studies that conducted a German team of scientists showed that the spines are made of both 'bricks' of calcite crystal as 'mortar' non-crystalline.
The results were reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Urchin spines serve as a defense against predators because they are strong and at the same time cushion the blows. As a result of these properties, these spines are among the most studied biomaterials.
However, it has been difficult to obtain conclusive results on how these spines are generated.
If the powerful spines were a single crystal should break cleanly into pieces, as would the mica or slate. However, the spikes do not break, but which are crushed as ceramics or glass.
To investigate thoroughly, the scientists studied samples collected urchins Beijing, China, with a sophisticated image display techniques.
X-ray tests showed scattering patterns indicating "bricks" of 200 nanometers in size.
Throughout the investigation, the needs and resources were aumentndo. They started with a standard light microscope, followed by electron microscopes to see and ended up in one of the centers of X-ray investigation of more sophisticated in the world, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.
The team found that the structure is made of "bricks" of calcite crystals in 92% who are stuck with 8% of "mortar" of calcium carbonate has no crystalline structure.
Material, whose observation is needed to microscopes with large scales, they called in English, mesocrystal, which is precisely this mix of glass and calcium.