“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
—Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
Chitin is responsible for some of the most remarkable mechanical properties exhibited by natural materials, including nacre, insect cuticle, and crustacean shells. It is also the most abundant organic compound on earth after cellulose.
In 2013 we demonstrated how chitin can be used as platform to mimic complex natural composites (i.e. Insect cuticle). We were able to reproduce the synergy between hierarchical design and biomolecules, and the consequent extraordinary mechanical properties of natural composites. We called Shrilk to this “artificial natural composite”.
One year later we demonstrated how those principles can be introduced in manufacture, producing large three-dimensional chitin objects (cups, boxes, clips…) that are functional and sustainable. This achievement is consider one of the most promising results on sustainable manufacture.
Our results, even if using friendly materials, are obtained in a high tech environment, combining tools for manufacture, molecular analysis, and mechanical testing.
Recently, Reuben Hudson, Samuel Glaisher, Alexandra Bishop and Jeffrey L. Katz, have designed simplified version of our first results in the shape of a High/Middle school activity. As the authors describe their work:
“It is a multiple day activity for students to create large-scale plastic objects made of chitin. The plastic objects created are durable and made from benign materials, making them suitable for students to take home to play with. Since the student-created plastic objects are sourced from biomass and fully compostable, the activity provides an opportunity to discuss depleting petrochemical resources and biorenewable feedstocks as well as issues of biodegradation vs persistence.”
You can find the whole activity here:
From Lobster Shells to Plastic Objects: A Bioplastics Activity
From the Fermart lab we want to thank the authors for their work, and encourage teachers (and/or curious people) to try this at home/school.