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Multifunctional materials with sensory capabilities like those of vision, touch or even smell could profoundly expand the possibilities of industrial design in many areas. Taking a cue from nature, a cross-institutional collaboration involving researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and MIT has deciphered how the biomineral making up the body armor of a chiton mollusk has evolved to create functional eyes embedded in the animal's protective shell. The findings could help determine so far still elusive rules for generating man-made multifunctional materials and are reported in the November 20 issue of Science.

Multifunctional materials that can sense physical stimuli in their environments could enable us to build houses that make use of their environments, to constantly monitor wear-and-tear and look for signs of damage in materials or even to better deliver some drugs and produce bioengineered organs.

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