Nacre in Mollusk Shells as a Multilayered Structure with Strain Gradient



How do living organisms attain the complicated shapes of grown bio-composites? This question is answered when studying the mechanics of the nacre layer in the bivalve mollusk shells. In this study, the internal strains/stresses across the shell thickness are profiled as a function of depth by strain gauge measurements during controlled etching in the selected areas. Measurements of stress release under etching provide clear evidence that the investigated shells, in fact, are strained multilayered structures, which are elastically bent due to the forces evolving at the organic/inorganic interfaces. The stresses are mostly concentrated in the “fresh” nacre sub-layers near the inner surface of the shell adjacent to the mollusk mantle. This analysis unexpectedly shows that the elastic bending of the nacre layer is due to strain gradients which are originated in the gradual in-depth changes of the thickness of ceramic lamellae. The changes mentioned were directly observed by scanning electron microscopy. By this sophisticated design of the ultra-structure of the nacre layer, the bowed shape of the bivalve shells is apparently achieved.