Identification of deformation mechanism in abalone shells through AFM and digital image correlation

Horacio D. Espinosa*, David Grégoire, Felix Latourte, Owen Loh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


In contrast to man-made materials, nature can produce materials with remarkable mechanical properties from relatively weak constituents. Nacre from seashells is a compelling example: despite being comprised mostly of a fragile ceramic (polygonal calcium carbonate tablets), it exhibits surprisingly high levels of strength and toughness. This performance is the result of an elegant hierarchical microstructure containing a small volume fraction of biopolymers at interfaces. The product is a composite material that is stiff and hard yet surprisingly tough, an essential requirement to protect the seashell from predators. Building a comprehensive understanding of the multiscale mechanisms that enable this performance represents a critical step toward realizing strong and tough bioinspired materials. This paper details a nanoscale experimental investigation into the toughening mechanisms in natural nacre and presents a way to translate this understanding to the design of new bioinspired composites. In situ three point bending fracture tests are performed to identify and quantify the toughening mechanisms involved during the fracture of natural nacre at the nanoscale. At the macro and micro scales, previous fracture tests [1, 2] performed in situ enabled observation of spreading of damage outward from the crack tip. In this study, fracture tests are performed in situ an atomic force microscope to link the larger-scale damage spreading to sliding within the tablet-based microstructure. To quantify the magnitude of sliding and its distribution, images from the in situ AFM fracture tests are analyzed using standard and new algorithms based on digital image correlation techniques which allow for discontinuous displacement fields. Ultimately, this comprehensive methodology provides a framework for broad experimental investigations into the failure mechanisms of bio-and bio-inspired materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-39
Number of pages13
JournalProcedia IUTAM
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
EventIUTAM Symposium on Full-Field Measurements and Identification in Solid Mechanics - Cachan, France
Duration: Jul 4 2011Jul 8 2011


  • Bioinspired materials
  • Biomimetics
  • Digital Image Correlation
  • Fracture and damage
  • Image processing
  • Multiscale experiments
  • Multiscale modelling
  • Nanocomposite
  • Natural nacre

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Identification of deformation mechanism in abalone shells through AFM and digital image correlation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this