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Science meets art

November 4, 2019
close-up detail of a sculpture made with blue and yellow materials.A detail from “Pearl,” a sculpture by artist Allison Newsome using materials produced in the lab of Rochester professor Anne S. Meyer. (provided photo / Anne S. Meyer)

Artist Allison Newsome recently approached Anne S. Meyer, an associate professor of biology, about incorporating Meyer’s sustainable, artificial nacre materials into a new art piece. The completed piece, titled “Pearl,” is a massive rain-harvesting sculpture inspired by biomimicry that does not use any surface treatment, so is environmentally friendly.

Meyer says the artificial nacre produced in her lab—which mimics natural nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl—is a great match for the art installation. “The structure of our material was inspired by nature as well, and it is produced using a sustainable method,” Meyer says. “We hope that moving the production of materials towards processes that are less energy-intensive and toxic, such as our bacterially-mediated fabrication techniques, will reduce the use of nonrenewable resources and make materials production more accessible to all people and societies.”

Meyer invented an inexpensive and environmentally friendly method for making artificial nacre using the novel component bacteria. The artificial nacre produced in Meyer’s lab has the toughness of natural nacre, while also being stiff and, surprisingly, bendable and could lead to new applications in medicine, engineering, and construction.

Newsome’s sculpture was exhibited at a conference in October hosted by Bioneer, “an innovative nonprofit organization that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet.”

a blue-gloved hand holds a slide showing layers of a mother-of-pearl-like substance.

In order to make artificial mother-of-pearl, Anne S. Meyer and her team use bacteria to create alternating thin layers of crystalized calcium carbonate and sticky polymer. Each layer is approximately five micrometers thick. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

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Category: In Photos