Technology See Inside 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 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 only a preview. Get the rest of this article now! Select an option below: Buy Digital Issue Customer Sign In *You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com. Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access. 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.