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Crystalline biominerals cost energy but provide the organism making them with skeletal support, locomotion, biting and mastication, carnivory, gravity and magnetic field sensing, and many others. How these crystals are formed remains the subject of intense study because it is a widespread natural phenomenon but also because it can teach us new synthesis strategies to produce targeted materials. I will discuss two key mechanisms: (1) Crystallization by particle attachment in diverse marine organisms and (2) A new toughening mechanism discovered by molecular dynamics simulations, then observed in human teeth.
Pupa Gilbert is Distinguished Achievement Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin, with parallel appointments in Chemistry, Geoscience, and Materials Departments. She has a doctorate from the University of Rome. Prior to her positions at U. Wisconsin she conducted research at the Italian National Research Council and at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic of Lausanne. She has been knighted by Italy and has received many other distinctions, including Fellow of the American Physical Society, Radcliffe Fellow, NSF/DMR American Competitiveness and Innovation Fellow, a Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award and three other awards from U. Wisconsin. She won the First Prize in the 2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge sponsored by Science and NSF. She also authored the textbook "Physics in the Arts", which has had a number of editions and been translated into Chinese.