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Sci Rep. 2013;3:1693. doi: 10.1038/srep01693.

Origin of flaw-tolerance in nacre.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of South Carolina, 300 Main Street, Columbia, South Carolina 29208, USA.


Over the past decades, our understanding of nacre's toughening origin has long stayed at the level of crack deflection along the biopolymer interface between aragonite platelets. It has been widely thought that the ceramic aragonite platelets in nacre invariably remain shielded from the propagating crack. Here we report an unexpected experimental observation that the propagating crack, surprisingly, invades the aragonite platelet following a zigzag crack propagation trajectory. The toughening origin of previously-thought brittle aragonite platelet is ascribed to its unique nanoparticle-architecture, which tunes crack propagation inside the aragonite platelet in an intergranular manner. For comparison, we also investigated the crack behavior in geologic aragonite mineral (pure monocrystal) and found that the crack propagates in a cleavage fashion, in sharp contrast with the intergranular cracking in the aragonite platelet of nacre. These two fundamentally different cracking mechanisms uncover a new toughening strategy in nacre's hierarchical flaw-tolerance design.

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