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J Mech Behav Biomed Mater. 2013 Mar;19:87-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jmbbm.2012.10.013. Epub 2012 Nov 3.

Platelets self-assemble into porous nacre during freeze casting.

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Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, 14 Engineering Drive, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.


Nacre possesses a remarkable combination of mechanical properties. Its high stiffness, strength and toughness are attributed to a highly aligned structure of aragonite platelets "glued" together by a small fraction (∼5vol%) of polymer; theoretically it can be described by a shear-lag model of staggered tensile elements between which loads are transferred via shear. Despite extensive research, it has not been possible yet to manufacture this aligned structure as a bulk material of considerable volume with a fast and easy production process. Particularly porous materials would benefit from enhanced wall material properties to compensate for performance loss due to their high porosity. An important application for such porous materials are tissue scaffolds for bone substitution. Bone, like nacre, exhibits excellent mechanical properties, particularly an exceptionally high toughness, because of its composite structure of hydroxyapatite platelets aligned in a ∼35vol% polymer matrix. Through the freeze casting process, which results in a fast and straightforward self-assembly of platelet-shaped particles during directional solidification, highly porous bulk materials with nacre-like cell walls can now be created. This porous nacre outperforms by a factor of 1.5-4 in terms of stiffness, strength and toughness materials that have the same amount of porosity but do not exhibit the nacre-like microarchitecture. The self-assembly process presented in this study thus has tremendous potential for the creation of highly porous, yet mechanically strong tissue scaffolds for low or medium load bearing bone substitute materials. Due to the versatility of the freeze casting process, materials with a self-assembled cell wall structure can be created from high-aspect ratio particles of all material classes. This enables material optimization for a great variety of applications such as impact protection, filtration, catalysis, energy generation and storage, in addition to those with excellent mechanical properties at high porosity.

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