Materials science has gifted us incredible substances with which the modern world is built. From construction materials, like cement and steel, to electronics, like solar panels and touch screens, advances in our understanding of synthesis and molecular structures allows these materials to become cheaper, better and widely applicable. Unfortunately, there are still limits to what is achievable with the current incarnations of mechanical, electronic and biological material. These limits can be structural whereby the material doesn't have the physical properties to fulfil the demands. In other cases, the cost of designing or fabricating the material for the job is too great. Other times the fabrication process leads to significant environmental damage or the product itself ends up contributing to pollution and environmental harm. For example, marine microplastic pollution caused by our widespread reliance on plastics. Overcoming these challenges is the next frontier of materials science and for many researchers the solution is one that humans have relied on for ages, literally turning back to nature for inspiration. Bio-functional chemistry expert Professor Tadashi Mizutani, based in the Department of Molecular Chemistry and Biochemistry at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, explains that bioinspired products are not a new concept. 'These are synthetic materials whose function, properties or structure mimic those of naturally occurring materials,' Mizutani says. Solar panels are a great example of a bioinspired material as they are designed to mimic photosynthesis. 'In many cases the natural product vastly outperforms any synthetic or man-made product.' Furthermore, not only can these natural materials outperform synthetic ones, because they are derived from natural sources, they are not harmful to the environment and are readily degradable. 'Contamination of sea water by microplastics is a serious problem, however, a biomimetic approach to mechanical materials can solve this issue if the developed composite can be degraded in the environment,' he outlines. For these reasons, Mizutani and his colleagues are working to understand the mechanism behind the formation of bioceramics, such as bones, teeth and seashells.