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JMPS paper-Micro-buckling in the nanocomposite structure of biological materials

Nanocomposite structure, consisting of hard mineral and soft protein, is the elementary building block of biological materials, where the mineral crystals are arranged in a staggered manner in protein matrix. This special alignment of mineral is supposed to be crucial to the structural stability of the biological materials under compressive load, but the underlying mechanism is not yet clear. In this study, we performed analytical analysis on the buckling strength of the nanocomposite structure by explicitly considering the staggered alignment of the mineral crystals, as well as the coordination among the minerals during the buckling deformation. Two local buckling modes of the nanostructure were identified, i.e., the symmetric mode and antisymmetric mode. We showed that the symmetric mode often happens at large aspect ratio and large volume fraction of mineral, while the antisymmetric happens at small aspect ratio and small volume fraction. In addition, we showed that because of the coordination of minerals with the help of their staggered alignment, the buckling strength of these two modes approached to that of the ideally continuous fiber reinforced composites at large aspect ratio given by Rosen’s model, insensitive to the existing “gap”-like flaws between mineral tips. Furthermore, we identified a mechanism of buckling mode transition from local to global buckling with increase of aspect ratio, which was attributed to the biphasic dependence of the buckling strength on the aspect ratio. That is, for small aspect ratio,  the local buckling strength is smaller than that of global buckling so that it dominates the buckling behavior of the nanocomposite; for comparatively larger aspect ratio, the local buckling strength is higher than that of global buckling so that the global buckling dominates the buckling behavior. We also found that the hierarchical structure can effectively enhance the buckling strength, particularly, this structural design enables biological nanocomposites to avoid local buckling so as to achieve global buckling at macroscopic scales through hierarchical design. These features are remarkably important for the mechanical functions of biological materials, such as bone,  teeth and nacre, which often sustain large compressive load.

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