Uncovering High-Strain Rate Protection Mechanism in Nacre

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Under high-strain-rate compression (strain rate ~103 s−1), nacre (mother-of-pearl) exhibits surprisingly high fracture strength vis-à-vis under quasi-static loading (strain rate 10−3 s−1). Nevertheless, the underlying mechanism responsible for such sharply different behaviors in these two loading modes remains completely unknown. Here we report a new deformation mechanism, adopted by nacre, the best-ever natural armor material, to protect itself against predatory penetrating impacts. It involves the emission of partial dislocations and the onset of deformation twinning that operate in a well-concerted manner to contribute to the increased high-strain-rate fracture strength of nacre. Our findings unveil that Mother Nature delicately uses an ingenious strain-rate-dependent stiffening mechanism with a purpose to fight against foreign attacks. These findings should serve as critical design guidelines for developing engineered body armor materials.

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