Nanotwin-governed toughening mechanism in hierarchically structured biological materials

YA Shin and S Yin and XY Li and SB Lee and SM Moon and JW Jeong and M Kwon and SJ Yoo and YM Kim and T Zhang and HJ Gao and SH Oh, NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 7, 10772 (2016).

DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10772

As a natural biocomposite, Strombus gigas, commonly known as the giant pink queen conch shell, exhibits outstanding mechanical properties, especially a high fracture toughness. It is known that the basic building block of conch shell contains a high density of growth twins with average thickness of several nanometres, but their effects on the mechanical properties of the shell remain mysterious. Here we reveal a toughening mechanism governed by nanoscale twins in the conch shell. A combination of in situ fracture experiments inside a transmission electron microscope, large-scale atomistic simulations and finite element modelling show that the twin boundaries can effectively block crack propagation by inducing phase transformation and delocalization of deformation around the crack tip. This mechanism leads to an increase in fracture energy of the basic building block by one order of magnitude, and contributes significantly to that of the overall structure via structural hierarchy.

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