Getting a paper published isn’t easy, so when you succeed it’s one of those days that you’re fulfilled being a PhD student. You hope more of those days will come.
This paper, freely accessible on Biology Open’s website, has been a long effort. For the biology-centered journals the paper was too technical, and for the more engineering ones it was too biological. Not wanting to admit this might be a problem particular to this paper, I think it might be a general challenge for Biomimicry-focused research. The goal isn’t necessarily to answer a very in-depth biological question, nor to engineer an entirely new system, but rather to understand biological strategies well enough that they can inspire new designs. I believe with the growing Biomimicry community, there either needs to be a broadened focus of current journals or the formation of new, biomimicry-centered journals that realize the interdisciplinary nature of biomimicry research.
For the study titled “The cuticle modulates ultraviolet reflectance of avian eggshells” hidden patterns of eggshells were visualized with a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and UV reflectance was measured before and after etching the cuticle, the outer most layer present on some eggshells. What triggered this research was the observation that some eggshells have very high UV reflectance, and the interest in how this could lead to new UV-protective materials.
The high energy of UV radiation hurts; we’ve all suffered from sunburn after a sunny, summer day. Many materials, including our skin, are UV-sensitive and need to be protected from high sun exposure. This is also true for avian eggshells, as the developing embryo can be damaged by UV light. It has been speculated that the colours of eggshells can act as a sun barrier because the pigments can absorb UV light. But what about white eggshells that lack pigmentation? This study shows that the cuticle absorbs UV light. This outer layer has a different chemical composition than the rest of the eggshell, and includes proteins and calcium phosphates that can selectively absorb UV light.
Eggshells are a great model system for inspiring innovative materials, because they are almost entirely made of calcium carbonate, a material that is totally harmless and naturally available in abundance. Next time you eat an egg, you might look at it differently.