Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Xiaodong (Chris) Li


Nacre (mother of pearl) is a self-assembled hierarchical nanocomposite in possession of exquisite multiscale architecture and exceptional mechanical properties. Previous work has shown that the highly-ordered brick-mortar-like structure in nacre is assembled via epitaxial growth and the aragonite platelets are pure single-crystals. Our results challenge this conclusion and propose that nacre's individual aragonite platelets are constructed with highly-aligned aragonite nanoparticles mediated by screw dislocation and amorphous aggregation. The underlying physics mechanism why the aragonite nanoparticles choose highly-oriented attachment as its crystallization pathway is rationalized in terms of thermodynamics. The aragonite nanoparticle order-disorder transformation can be triggered by high temperature and mechanical deformation, which in turn confirms that the aragonite nanoparticles are basic building blocks for aragonite platelets.

Particularly fascinating is the fracture toughness enhancement of nacre through exquisitely collecting mechanically inferior calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and biomolecules. The sandwich-like microarchitecture with a geometrically staggered arrangement can induce crack deflection along its biopolymer interface, thus significantly enhancing nacre's fracture toughness. Our new findings ambiguously demonstrate that, aside from crack deflection, the advancing crack can invade aragonite platelet, leaving a zigzag crack propagation pathway. These unexpected experimental observations disclose, for the first time, the inevitable structural role of aragonite platelets in enhancing nacre's fracture toughness. Simultaneously, the findings that the crack propagates in a zigzag manner within individual aragonite platelets overturn the previously well-established wisdom that considers aragonite platelets as brittle single-crystals.

Moreover, we investigated the dynamical mechanical response of nacre under unixial compression. Our results show that the high strain rate sensitivity reaching ~0.1 can be directly related to the localized plastic activation volume. Nacre's hierarchical energy-dissipation mechanism under dynamic compression loading comes from a mechanical optimization derived from its inherently multiscale functional structure design.