Transparent crab shell holds the secret to bendable screens


    Biologists from Kyoto University in Japan have turned a crab’s
    shell transparent. More than just a neat party trick, the
    into see-through structures could help the
    construction of flat panel displays, solar cells and bendy

    Muhammad Iftekhar Shams and his team at Kyoto University took an
    entire (dead) crab, and treated its body to a brew of acids and
    chemicals. Hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide and ethanol stripped
    the body of minerals, proteins, lipids, fats and pigments.

    This left a crab shell made entirely of translucent chitin. Chitin is a long-chain polymer
    that is the main component of crustacean exoskeletons.

    Finally, the shell was immersed in an acrylic resin monomer.
    Polymerisation kicked in (monomer molecules react together to form
    polymer chains), and the team ended up with a perfect, ghostly
    recreation of a
    , only now completely see-through.

    Buoyed by their success, Shams and colleagues crushed up chitin
    from crab shells and spread the powdered material into a
    nanocomposite sheet. Then, much like the crab body, the paper-like
    sheet was given the acrylic resin monomer treatment, leading to an
    optically transparent panel.

    The material is exciting because it doesn’t expand or lose its
    stability when heated—in fact, it’s ten times as resistant to
    heat as traditional materials such as glass-fiber epoxies. This
    makes it a potential material for building bendable screens or
    solar cells that are moulded into shapes. It has a high light
    transmittance too.

    “This class of materials is an interesting candidate for
    transparent substrates in next-generation electronic devices such
    as flexible displays and solar cells,” the team writes in the
    —published by the Royal Society of

    Better still is that chitin—the secret ingredient—is
    abundant in nature. Not only is it found in the shells of crabs,
    lobsters and shrimps, this adaptable natural material also shows up
    in the cell walls of fungi, the exoskeletons of arthropods and
    insects, the tongue-like radulas of mollusks, and the beaks of

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    Transparent crab shell holds the secret to bendable screens


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