Technology Viral Nano Electronics M.I.T. breeds viruses that coat themselves in selected substances, then self-assemble into such devices as liquid crystals, nanowires and electrodes By Philip E. Ross THIS IS A PREVIEW. Buy this digital issue or subscribe to access the full article. Already a subscriber or purchased this issue? Sign In WEBB CHAPPELL For many years, materials scientists wanted to know how the abalone, a marine snail, constructed its magnificently strong shell from unpromising minerals, so that they could make similar materials themselves. Angela M. Belcher asked a different question: Why not get the abalone to make things for us? She put a thin glass slip between the abalone and its shell, then removed it. We got a flat pearl, she says, which we could use to study shell formation on an hour-by-hour basis, without having to sacrifice the animal. It turns out the abalone manufactures proteins that induce calcium carbonate molecules to adopt two distinct yet seamlessly melded crystalline forms--one strong, the other fast-growing. The work earned her a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1997 and paved her way to consultancies with the pearl industry, a professorship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a founding role in a start-up company called Cambrios in Mountain View, Calif. THIS IS A PREVIEW. Buy this digital issue or subscribe to access the full article. Already a subscriber or purchased this issue? Sign In Buy Digital Issue $7.99 Add To Cart Print + DigitalAll Access $99.99 Subscribe ADVERTISEMENT Scientific American is a trademark of Scientific American, Inc., used with permission © 2015 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc. All Rights Reserved.