UC Riverside



David Kisailus


David Kisailus

Sea Provides Answers to Designing and Synthesizing Materials

Local California sea invertebrates, such as snails, sea urchins and coral, are informing UCR researchers about designing and synthesizing materials for applications as diverse as lightweight armor, flexible ceramics, and new ways of producing and storing energy.

For me, living the promise means that I have accepted the career as a scientist as well as a teacher. This has not only placed the responsibility to practice solid research in my laboratory, but also to ensure that the students (both Undergrad and Grad) have a mentor, teacher, and friend through me.

Dr. David Kisailus of the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering sees a potential to combine materials science with invertebrate zoology to come up with novel answers to old problems. His lab is the only one in the field to simultaneously approach the problem from both the materials engineering and biological systems points of view.

Sea urchins synthesize flexible ceramics and marine sponges to form fracture-resistant glass rods and fibers that are models for the synthesis of real-life engineering. In the same way, the red abalone shell's lining is so tough that when extrapolated to human size, the material could withstand the most devastating attacks.

The team, which includes James Weaver, an invertebrate marine zoologist who works as a research associate with Kisailus, is also studying how the sea creatures construct their biomaterials. As the red abalone grows, for example, it constructs its shell in the same way a new building goes up - girders first. Then it fills in the areas between the girders with the mineral component, resulting in a very strong-layered nano-composite. The scientists are working to mimic that precision in the laboratory.

If they succeed, Kisailus sees a future with more efficient energy storage and conversion, and even some solutions to the global energy crisis. "Imagine having a solar cell that is inexpensive, flexible and highly efficient," he said. "Many of the organisms we study hold the keys to solving these problems."

In 2008, Kisailus received a two-year grant from General Motors and the UC Discovery Grant Program to explore creation of a light-weight, low-cost and tough composite material that could create automotive body panels that would withstand significant impacts without failing.

Kisailus and fellow researchers have brought their research subjects, along with the beauty of coral reefs, to the laboratory in a 500-gallon seawater system that dominates the Biomimetic and Nanostructured Materials Laboratory at UCR's Bourns Hall.

View David Kisailus' faculty profile.

Watch interviews of Kisailus discussing the creation of building materials that mimic nature. Part 1 & Part 2

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