Recent analyses of the ultrastructural and mechanical properties of mineralized biological materials have demonstrated some common architectural features that can help explain their observed damage tolerance. Nature has accomplished this feat through the precise control of anisotropic crystal nucleation and growth processes in conjunction with nanoscale control over the self-assembly of spatially distinct organic and inorganic phases, resulting in effective inhibition of crack propagation through these materials. One such example is found in the hyper-mineralized and abrasion resistant radular teeth of the chitons, a group of herbivorous marine mollusks who have the surprising capacity to erode away the rocky substrates on which they graze1–4. Through the use of modern microscopy and nanomechanical characterization techniques, we describe the architectural and mechanical properties of the radular teeth from Cryptochiton stelleri. Chiton teeth are shown to exhibit the largest hardness and stiffness of any biominerals reported to date, being notably as much as three-fold harder than human enamel and the calcium carbonate-based shells of mollusks. We explain how the unique multi-phasic design of these materials contributes not only to their functionality, but also highlights some interesting design principles that might be applied to the fabrication of synthetic composites.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(10)70016-X